September’s priorities for new headteachers

Written by: Helen Frostick | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

A new term brings a new start for many school leaders, including those taking up their first headship. National Leader of Education Helen Frostick offers her advice to those new to the post, including a quick guide to areas of focus for the autumn term senior leadership meetings

Retention and recruitment strategy

At the beginning of the new school year, the last thing on a headteacher’s mind is recruitment. However, retention of the best staff will pay dividends. Staff are the most invaluable resource and to start the year with a strategy to keep them will be time invested well. There is nothing worse than building in excellent training and development of staff only for them to leave before there is an impact on the outcomes for the children.

Induction is a key factor in ensuring staff wellbeing and job satisfaction. Schools are very good at inducting newly qualified staff but it is also a good idea to assign a mentor to all new staff. It is not enough to just give out the Staff Handbook on the first day back to school in September.

A good idea is to meet with all staff in the first couple of weeks to review job descriptions and to set initial targets for the year ahead. Face-to-face meetings will always be appreciated by the staff and will make them feel valued whatever their position in the school.

Governors: A health check

After the first governors’ meeting this term, a short feedback questionnaire to the governors will be a signal that the headteacher is prioritising a positive partnership and listening to their views. It could include questions about whether the Headteacher’s Report is giving the right amount of information and whether it is a manageable length. In addition, it can pre-empt requests for governor visits by inviting volunteers to make their first visit to monitor an area of the school development plan (SDP).

A meeting with the chair of governors will also be useful to review the chair of governors’ section of the autumn meeting and to consider whether the balance is at the appropriate level.

Productive appointments with parents

Parents will want to meet with the new headteacher for a variety of reasons throughout the year. Many of these official appointments can be pre-empted by heads simply being visible in the playground every day.

However, for issues that are more sensitive the parents will book appointments through the office. If possible it is always worth trying to find out from staff what meetings might be concerning in order to give enough time to investigate first. I find that my administrative assistant is the person to ask as she has such a good relationship with the parents that they usually confide in her at the point of booking the appointment.

Sometimes the appointment can be directed back through the class teacher. In the information meetings at the start of the year the class teachers should ask parents to come to them first if there are any issues regarding their child. Parents will occasionally disregard this, particularly if they feel the issue is to do with the teacher.

In order to keep relationships positive it is always worth thanking the parent for coming in and acknowledging that it helps for you to understand any concerns. Also, keep in mind the desired outcome of the meeting – there is nothing worse than closing down a relationship because of being overly defensive. After the meeting, a good strategy is to follow up with a short acknowledgement slip as a summary of the meeting and next steps.

Involvement of the pupils

The children will want to be involved in the life of the school and this should be a priority for new headteacher (and do not forget that the best way to the parents is through their children!). Pupils can be involved directly in the success of the attendance policy, the SDP and the place of the school in the community.

In terms of the attendance policy, have class targets of 100 per cent a week, with rewards and acknowledgement of the efforts of the class. This leads to a whole team effort.

The SDP, meanwhile, can be fed with pupils’ ideas via Bright Ideas Boxes in the corridors. A good place to begin is asking for feedback on extra-curricular activities and after-school clubs.

Pupils getting actively involved in the local community will also be appreciated by the school’s neighbours whether this be letters through doors to give advance notice of PTA events at the school, Golden Boot awards for pupils who walk, scoot or cycle to school to cut down on traffic pollution, or singing in local care homes.

Getting the very best out of the budget

Of course a key priority for all headteacher, new and old, is the budget. Times are tight and any opportunities to bulk buy as a group of schools will be welcome. With that in mind, it is important for new heads to seek out networking opportunities on behalf of the admin and finance teams. For example, the finance meetings in my local area led to the bursars outsourcing to an independent lawyer and sharing his costs to get all schools ready for last year’s General Data Protection Regulation.

Many new heads feel too busy and under pressure to attend external meetings at the beginning of their headship but it is important to look outwards as well as inwards and to get to know colleagues in other schools who will be a great source of information and support.

Strategic plan

Schools will create their SDP either at the end of the summer term or the beginning of the autumn term. This then feeds into performance management. There is no one-size-fits-all but the SDP must be concise, achievable, time-measured and costed. Milestones and monitoring are important, as is the rationale for why certain areas have been selected as a focus for the academic year ahead.

It is a good idea to share ownership by delegating key staff to complete the action plans according to their area of responsibility. The senior management team and ultimately the governors’ curriculum meeting can oversee the monitoring of the impact of the plan. It is important to have a date deadline set aside to review the impact twice a year so that the SDP becomes a working document and is not just filed away on a shelf.

The Pupil Premium strategy

There is a wealth of support out there to help you report on the Pupil Premium strategy both internally and externally, not least the National College and The Key. You should also check out the websites of local schools to see the variety of ways the information is disseminated.

Your strategy needs to include summary information such as total budget and number of pupils eligible for the funding, current attainment, barriers to future attainment, desired outcomes and how they will be measured, planned expenditure, targeted support and other approaches and a review of the expenditure.

External support

The vast majority of headteachers will need to use the support of the legal department at some point as well as that of human resources. The local authority or academy trust will provide inspectorate and advisory support. The SEND department will also be key, as will the local safeguarding hub. I would recommend keeping all of the contacts for the main external bodies at hand in a telephone book or index box on your desk.

Policies

A checklist of policies and their review dates is another priority for the new head. The safeguarding, behaviour and anti-bullying policies all need to be reviewed annually. Some policies are the responsibility of the governors, for example the admissions policy. The clerk to the governors will be able to summarise the policies under their umbrella and assign them to the meetings and committees over the course of the year.

A good policy to review or formulate with the staff team is the teaching and learning policy. It will be an opportunity to set down the highest standards while reviewing current practices and establishing what needs to be tweaked or changed completely (such as the marking code, for example).

Review of work/life balance

By the second half of the autumn term, the vast majority of new heads will be sinking under the workload (along with many other heads for that matter). It is important to ensure that time is taken out of school on average once a fortnight to have dedicated time for paperwork and for strategic thinking away from the hectic pace of school life. This also enables the staff team to step up and run the school in your stead, which is excellent professional development.

Further information & resources

This article is part of a series of mentoring articles aimed at new headteachers. The next one will offer further focus areas and advice that new headteachers should consider as their first term draws to a close. This will publish in November.


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