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Choosing a school - how important is the Head?

(35 Posts)
AChickenCalledKorma Sun 22-Jul-12 17:40:26

I've always subscribed to the notion that you can tell a lot about a school by meeting the Head. Organisations take on the personality of their leaders etc.

And now we have a choice of two secondary schools for our eldest child (just going into Yr 6). In one case, I loved the school but found the Head arrogant and somewhat smarmy. In the other case, the school was less impressive at first sight, but I warmed to the Head and felt that she was someone that had similar values to me.

I wonder whether secondary schools are such large organisations that the personality of the Head is less of an issue than it would be at primary? Presumably one deals with Heads of Year, form tutors etc far more than the actual Head. The school with the smarmy Head was definitely our first choice, right up to the moment when I heard him speak!!!

Any observations?

dexter73 Sun 22-Jul-12 18:11:47

I would go for the school I liked rather than the Head as they may not stay at the school.

hellymelly Sun 22-Jul-12 18:27:19

I can only comment about primary level as my dds are small, but I will say that the moment there are problems where you need the help and support of the head, they become very important indeed. If you are lucky and never need that then the teachers are probably more important, but you can't predict how things will pan out.

BeingFluffy Sun 22-Jul-12 18:34:40

I was told by an educational psychologist years ago that there are three things to look for in a school; the headteacher, the headteacher, the headteacher. So far it has proved correct.

The unknown quantity is whether the nice or smarmy head has plans to leave in the next couple of years.

BackforGood Sun 22-Jul-12 23:12:29

I wonder if you are talking about my dd's school ? grin

As far as I'm concerned, my ds's school is FAR better than my dd's school, simply because of the ethos of the HT and staff, in encouraging parents to communicate with them in any one of many means, as opposed to my dd's school where the HT is patronising and refuses to have any kind of meeting where parents might be able to offer support / suggestions (I'm talking about things like maybe starting a 2nd hand Uniform sale, not a campaign to get rid of half the teachers wink).
You never, ever know what will happen in your lives and the lives of the dcs over the next 7 years (or longer if there are siblings), but being able to approach the school and talk openly with them is hugely reassuring.
That said, of course a HT can leave, which is another thought to consider, but generally speaking, their ethos is reflected throughout the school, yes.

AChickenCalledKorma Mon 23-Jul-12 07:28:45

Interesting ... a number of different viewpoints there!

I must admit that I hadn't really thought about the unknown quantity of Heads leaving. Although it is somewhat relevant in that the smarmy Head has only been at the school 2 years. In that time, he has overseen an upward spiral in results, but I hear the occasional rumbling about the ethos of the school changing (more driven/results-focussed, less of the other stuff that makes school into a whole experience).

exoticfruits Mon 23-Jul-12 07:34:03

I go with BeingFluffy's post BUT they are in the school for a long time and Heads change. DS started with a great one and I wasn't so keen on the replacement.

exoticfruits Mon 23-Jul-12 07:35:17

If he is results driven you can lose a lot on the way.

difficultpickle Mon 23-Jul-12 07:48:48

I chose ds's school because of the head. Unfortunately she took early retirement at the end of yr 1 and was replaced by the older deputy head. The school has changed greatly and not for the better.

mummytime Mon 23-Jul-12 07:51:12

How much have you met the Head? Have you just seen his public persona?
There is always whining about a new head within the first couple of years, people don't like change even if it is for the good.
Good results doesn't have to mean that other stuff is lost.

Some parents have described DCs Head as "smarmy" personally I think he is great, and the school certainly is.

Born2BRiiiled Mon 23-Jul-12 07:56:36

Really important in my opinion. They make the curriculum decisions. They affect morale of staff. They have the say in how behaviour is dealt with. They deal with underperforming staff or not.
In primary school, your class teacher is the big influence but in sec, with so many teachers, I think the overall ethos is more important, and that comes from the Head.

grovel Mon 23-Jul-12 10:36:51

Very important - but I'd make a couple of points:

A strong new Head will take 3 or 4 years to turn round a failing school.
A weak Head will similarly take 3 or 4 years really to damage a good school with an enduring ethos.

My neighbour's DS is at a school where the Head is revered by staff and pupils. The parents can't understand why. He just doesn't "do" parents terribly well.

happygardening Mon 23-Jul-12 11:36:59

The head decIdes on the overall policy and direction the school is going in. He then delegates his " vision" to deputy heads heads of department/year director of studies etc. He needs to have clear vision be able to delegate but also be able to monitor and ensure his vision is being im

happygardening Mon 23-Jul-12 11:39:23

The head decides on the overall policy and direction the school is going in. He then delegates his " vision" to deputy heads heads of department/year director of studies etc. He needs to have clear vision be able to delegate but also be able to very carefully monitor and ensure his vision is being implemented.
So he's key. I'm not sure you have to like him but you do have to like and believe in the vision.

Scholes34 Wed 25-Jul-12 16:23:23

Our head can certainly talk the talk and could be seen as smarmy. However, I believe he is genuinely behind the school and gives all his time and energies to it. He has two children, one of whom will go to the school next year. He is supported by an excellent management team, each with a different personality/strengths. Where I have had reason to discuss a matter with the school, I've found one of the Deputy Heads excellent and haven't needed to consult with the Head himself. Yes, the Head's important, but look a little further into the management structure before you write off the school.

AChickenCalledKorma Wed 25-Jul-12 21:19:06

"I'm not sure you have to like him but you do have to like and believe in the vision."

Thanks Happygardening - I think those are wise words. My impression is that smarmy Head's vision is "ties done up, prizes for attendance and as many A*s as possible" whereas the other Head presented a much broader vision based around a strapline of "excellence, leadership and opportunity" (might be outing myself now to anyone who lives around here!)

happygardening Wed 25-Jul-12 23:19:02

The problem many parents have is working out what the heads vision actually is. They're crafty buggers and particularly in the independent sector in many cases say what they think parents want hear. There would be fewer disgruntled parents if heads were a little more honest. If your vision for St Elsewhere is for it to become super pushy results obsessed hot house where exams take priority over everything else then for God sake be honest about it! As far as I can see most parents are queuing around the block to get their DC's into these sort of places.

bruffin Thu 26-Jul-12 12:00:48

Our head turned round the school from 13% getting 5 gcses not necessarily including maths and english to nearly 90%. He seems to genuinely like children and talks about their futures as fully rounded individuals and not just exams results. He does have a good management team which is also important and also very supportive governers

muddymooncupsatdawn Thu 26-Jul-12 12:19:00

DS2' head has just left and a new one starts in September.
We will be applying to this school for DD to start Sept. 2013.

The school has just been passed "outstanding" again, but as others say it's not always as "outstanding" as it seems.
Low level bullying going on, not being delt with/wrong DC being accused etc..
Hopefully, the new head will sort these things out.

I think one has to look at the bigger picture and choose the best school that suits their DC' needs.

I find it best to speak to other parents/pupils at the school, to get a better idea of the real school. IYSWIM.

After all the HT is management/PR and everything that goes with that.

LynetteScavo Thu 26-Jul-12 12:21:39

I think it's very important. Sadly, whenever I chose a school with a fabulous head they retire soon after!

tuckchop Fri 27-Jul-12 11:32:42

VASTLY IMPORTANT. Heads are individuals and very different.

Imagine the difference between a super stricty lik Sir Wiltshire and a liberal Head. Chalk and cheese

teachermother Fri 27-Jul-12 11:51:26

As a teacher I can say that where the Head is reasonable and understanding, teachers are happy and do their job better. I would go for the nice Head; the rest, such as the buildings and facilities are less important. Try to find out how confortable the pupils at the school are and listen to your instincts.

microcosmia Tue 07-Aug-12 01:23:48

I agree with teachermother. The Head is undeniably important. At primary level we were impressed enough to choose a new school, that nobody we knew had tried, based solely on our experience of meeting the Head. The school was at the time almost entirely in prefabs but has a fantastic ethos and supportive atmosphere. It felt right and it was right for us. At second level we declined an offer in a school where we felt the Head and management put the schools interests first and opted for a school with a more approachable staff. After all we will have to deal with them for 6 years. Of course Heads can leave and schools can change as a result so the Deputy Head is important also. .

shoeboxgirly Thu 13-Sep-12 20:43:10

very important, they shape the ethos and atmosphere of the school, they establish the values, which are most important etc etc. they can be friendly/unfriendly, this all makes a difference

Leonas Tue 09-Oct-12 20:09:38

I think that the HT can be very important, but please remember that they will not actualy be teaching your child. We have HUGE issues with our HT - horrendour reputation, disciplinary hearings over bullying of staff, accusations of misconduct and financial issues - but the staff who work at the school go over and above the call of duty for the kids.
The school got the best results it has ever had with this very unpopular HT and now it seems to be the staff are working even harder to try to combat this reputation. Despite this, our numbers are still dropping and this is putting our jobs at risk - a very sad situation.
I totally understand a parent's misgivings about a school due to the poor reputation of a HT but there are so many more things that are important ata school as well.

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