I joined HeadsUp in July 2020 after a very difficult 18 months. I became the headteacher of a failing inner-city school in September 2013 at the request of the LA. I led the change from a failing grade to a good school over the next three years. The school joined a Trust in November 2018 and I believed that myself and the trust CEO were on the same wavelength. That we had the same values and vision about education and my school. Sadly, this was not the case, after a turbulent six months I resigned from my position in April 2020. Then Covid happened which has made it difficult to find a new job. It did mean I had the opportunity to home school my two boys, which was great, but it was a big change to go from leading over 600 people on a daily basis to sitting at the dining room table with a seven and an 11 year-old.

Whilst I was in the middle of the situation I didn’t always see the big picture. Now I have had time to reflect I understand how and why it happened. This is a simplified account of the events that led up to my resignation. I am sure it is not a unique story and I know it is not a unique outcome.

Before we joined the trust, the CEO talked about support for all children, a value that I believe in whole heartedly. I am certain that all children should be supported to achieve the very best outcomes possible, including and perhaps prioritising, those most vulnerable children who may not reach ‘expected’ at the end of each key stage. I believed that as a school we should set up a nurture unit for children who were struggling with behaviour needs. This was a costly proposal but the SLT, governors and most staff knew that the children needed us to do this. Unfortunately, this was not a view held by all stakeholders. I went ahead with the nurture unit and it was a success for all children who attended. I stuck to what I knew was right however I did not raise standards at KS2. I was called to a meeting and was offered an exit package under the guise that three members staff had made complaints about me and about the direction of the school. These we not official complaints and the whistleblowing policy was not followed. I refused as I knew I had made the right decision. Six months later I was called to another meeting whereby I was offered another exit package, however, this time is being worded as take the package or you will go onto a support programme. With advice from my union I took the exit package.

As the school joined the trust I believed that my vision and values were similar. However, during the first 12 months of the school being a member of the trust I realised that there was a miss-alignment of these values. I therefore took a principled decision to resign so that I can be a leader I am proud of.

Throughout those 12 months and as I was coming to the final decision my feelings were that of disbelief. Is this really happening to me? After my resignation I went through the five stages of grief:

This was definitely not a linear journey but a complete rollercoaster with loops and returns to the beginning. I am now at ‘acceptance’ but it has taken me a while to get there.

I suppose the main learning outcome from this experience is that I’m not on my own and it is not my fault. This has happened to many heads but until it happened to me I wasn’t really aware. The experience is very isolating. I have learnt a great deal about myself as a person as my job formed part of my identity. Therefore, I felt that part of me had been stolen, I was bitter, angry and lost. I spent months reflecting on myself as a leader but more time on me as a person. The list of learning is not exhaustive, just the highlights.

I am not my job. (Some people know this about themselves but I wasn’t one of them)
It is not my fault. (The route of the issue is in the current education system)
I will be a better leader because of it. (The time I have spent on reflection, including the importance of my values and vision has solidified my belief in the fact that this is the best job in the world)
If I do nothing about this situation the system will continue to do this to leaders. (I need to stand on my soapbox and make the changes from within the system)

I am braver than I believed
I am stronger than I seemed
I am smarter than I thought
What the system could learn

Value the leaders
Value the staff
Value all pupils

Listen to the leaders – they know their staff
Listen to the leaders – they know their pupils
Listen to the leaders – they know their communities

Change the accountability of the Education system
Change the remit for OFSTED to that of support
Change the education system so that it is not part of a four-year political cycle

I am looking for a job and will continue to do so, it is not easy for me as I find interviews difficult. The last few years have been an emotional rollercoaster but I don’t want to get off!