A lot hinges on this pivotal day
The school year can be characterised by certain key dates in the calendar which, completely out of the hands of a headteacher, have the ability to set the tone for all that follows.
During my time as a head teacher and later CEO, today, the Friday before the late May bank holiday, was a day of great significance in the school year. It was the final day that staff could resign from their post and take up a new post in another school for September. For the leader of a school in the secondary sector it was one of the four key dates of the year, the others being the day you received your final budget share, and the days A level and GCSE results arrived. These corresponded to two inputs; money and staff and two outputs; public examination results. Others might add a fifth date, when they learned the makeup of their new intake, but I always worked in non-selective schools, so we had limited say in who arrived. That didn’t do anything to dampen our excitement at seeing who came through the gates, but as we had little influence, it was not the makeup of the students that would determine our success, it was the quality of the education we provided. I liked it that way.
The days leading up to today could be testing. You would have done lots of scenario testing to ensure optimal succession planning. You would have started by ensuring you had the correct replacements for those staff retiring and to fill the new staff places you had allocated. You might also unfortunately need to reduce staffing and this process would be now heading to its conclusion.
These changes, however, were often tiny compared to the changes the staff initiated. Commonly, through courtesy, staff would tell you if they were considering leaving and why. This would give you an opportunity to put your case if you wanted to retain them. When you first started in the post this was a fairly dispassionate conversation but as time went on and their story became intertwined with that of the school, the potential loss of a key member of staff who you had nurtured and respected sometimes became difficult to reconcile. Even when you had experienced it before and contrary to your feelings at the time, the students’ education had not suffered as you had feared and in fact they had prospered even further as the new appointment blossomed in the role.
Later, as a head of a Teaching School, the loss of a key member of staff was also offset by the knowledge that you had played your part in providing another school with a well trained and talented member of staff. You knew you had been an integral part of their journey and that this was another stage in their progression as a professional. Giving them the opportunity to progress from your own school was a way for you to ensure you had made a valuable contribution to education beyond your school.
To deal with this fluid situation, you would have your spies out each morning checking who was out on interview and what the outcome was for those who had returned. From this you would rework your plan, or accept your fate. You had already passed the deadline some four weeks ago when there was enough time to place an advertisement and appoint staff who currently worked in other schools unless they were on short-term contracts. As a result, the loss of a senior member of staff in the preceding four weeks was particularly difficult to deal with unless a ready-made replacement existed.
Often this process went right up to the wire. When the bell sounded at the end of the day that would usually be the end of it. It was now what it was. If you were lucky you only had the post that new teachers were expected to fill which you would take care of between terms in June and September. If not you would try to cobble together the best solution you could and wait for a suitably experienced teacher to become available and appoint them for January. Whatever the outcome, it was certainly not a time to meet the resident doomsayers on the way out of school.
We offer this observation as a reflective piece. We realise that in these changing times many of the routines to which you have adapted are in abeyance and you are dealing with different scenarios with their own stress and strains. If you are heading into a well-earned half-term break or just making do with a few moments during the weekend, take care and stay safe.