In offering my experience as a case study, I hope others will read this and recognise they are not alone in experiencing difficult times in their job. I want others to share my thoughts and learning arising from difficulties so that they can look at their experiences from a positive angle and realise they can benefit from personal hardship even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

I worked in secondary schools for 30 years, 11 as a head. Much of my experience was positive, uplifting and inspiring. On the whole, I’m happy I did it but accept I have very mixed feelings about my experiences, successes and failures. I have learned to accept that some things went well and others did not. That’s it, that’s the way it is. This hasn’t defined me, it’s just part of me.

I don’t feel the need to go into the specific details around my departure from the job. I would rather reflect on the thinking and learning that has seen me through. However, I recognise value in broadly outlining the issues because readers might want to gauge their challenges against other experiences. In short, like all heads and leaders, I faced regular challenges around issues such as finances, standards, Ofsted pressures, managing staff accountability, balancing the belief in being an inclusive school against issues of behaviour management. I have firm beliefs on all of these (obviously) and was always prepared to stand my ground. I had backing from my governors and the Trust I took the school into. Then circumstances changed and I felt the backing disappeared. The new Trust CEO tried to put pressure on me. I was very frustrated by this and frankly felt betrayed. My response was to get ASCL involved and with their help, walked away. ASCL were superb.

Being a head instilled a great deal of self confidence and assertiveness in me. Ironically, it was this that led me to walk away. I backed my values and convictions and told myself I would no longer put up with attitudes and ideas I didn’t agree with and the way others tried to impose them on me which was causing me such misery and anxiety. My values and beliefs told me it was wrong so I summoned up the strength to reject it. Others tried to push me around and I said “no, you aren’t doing that to me”.

About eighteen months before I left my role I began to feel worn down by it all. I found it harder to focus on the job overall and gradually felt my resolve and passion weakening. Top sports players will acknowledge that being only a few percent down on top performance will guarantee defeat. I reflect that my losing my edge by a similar few percent, while not leading to something as immediate as a specific defeat, did lead to me losing appetite for the job. I found it hard to care as much about the usual challenges.

My advice would be to seek someone out who can listen and support objectively. It is only now that I realise many leaders have some sort of coach to work with. I tried to reach out and express my feelings but hadn’t got the appropriate person to do that with. Governors/trustees should look out for your well being in a serious, committed and professional manner but should not be the one/s you confide in because there can be a conflict of their interest in your well being and their role and you are unlikely to feel confident or comfortable. I will say, I did try this with my chair of governors and my CEO. Both let me down personally and I wish I hadn’t reached out to them.

Some heads and leaders in other fields invest in a coach of some sort and some are fortunate enough for their school/trust/employers to provide this. It has become clear to me that this should be provided for all heads as a formal feature of their conditions of service. We must have the well being of our leaders at the forefront of our thinking. It is the humane thing to do but it is also inefficient and negligent not to do this. On a personal level, I am now astounded that I was ignorant of this issue. For heaven’s sake, I coached all of the leaders in my school in one way or another but didn’t have such a resource in place for myself

I think there are examples of my learning throughout this piece but overall I learned to trust myself in terms of backing my ability to come through challenging times. The strategies I adopted to help me move on from headship worked. I now know that the attributes I have, and developed as a headteacher, will stand me in good stead for whatever I do in the future. This has given me great self confidence and strength.

I reckon heads do the vast majority of their job really well pretty much all of the time, it’s a hard job requiring a vast range of skills and attributes, yet we dwell disproportionately on what doesn’t go well. In small part this is a personal mindset issue but is much more to do with the nature and culture of the system we work in.

The obsession with defining and then measuring children’s academic progress and using that as the basis for identifying schools as successful or not is at the root of the problem. So many other facets of education are being held up as more or less important and valuable on the basis of their relationship to so called progress measures. Our system measures and evaluates education, learning and therefore individuals and schools in a way that is inevitably culturally biased and discriminatory. It gives a monopoly on the narrative of what is valuable to an elite minority with the unhappy consequence that we have a system that contributes to our unequal and divided society which currently appears to me to be getting worse not better. Education, we are told by so many of the great minds and leaders in society has the capacity to be the answer to the world’s ills and yet in this country it actually contributes to them. This must change.

We must learn to evaluate our educational leaders on as broad a spectrum of factors as there are involved in the job. We must ensure that we then give due recognition, praise and value to our leaders so that they are motivated and encouraged enough to carry on when aspects of the job get tough. We must ensure appropriate support is in place for these leaders


I now work for myself. I laid plans from about 2 or 3 years before I left headship. I began to put the actual business in place from the moment I met with my CEO and decided I was going to leave.

I refer to my business as an education support business because that’s what I want to do; support those in the system. I work with Local Authorities, MATs, individual schools and with individual professionals as well. I am very open minded on how broad this work can be and have so far been lucky enough to earn pretty much the same incoming money as in headship. I am well aware that this type of employment is very risky because I cannot be sure money will always be coming in, that’s the fact of it. That said, at the moment it’s fine and I really love the work I do. It’s sad I couldn’t say that about headship; certainly not in the last year to 18 months.

My message to others in similar situations is to make sure you assess your options and identify what other opportunities there could be for you. Have a potential exit strategy. Even if you don’t decide to leave headship, you will feel more in control of your situation. If you do feel the need to leave, trust in your skills, qualities and experience. You have so much to offer, you will move on positively with your well being and self esteem in tact.