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Off with her headship

Article | Published in TES Newspaper on 2 February, 2007 | By: Jonathan Milne

First non-teacher to qualify to run a state school gets a rough ride from her peers

A NON-TEACHER, believed to be the first to qualify to head a state school, has had a hostile reception from teachers. Kerry Callaghan, 38, got her National Professional Qualification for Headship last week and could become one of the first state school heads without teaching experience.

She gained the mandatory qualification hard on the heels of a contentious government-commissioned report recommending that qualified professionals from outside education be promoted into school leadership.

But she has not been welcomed. During the residential component of the NPQH course at a Cheadle Hulme conference centre her classmates rounded on her.

"They were all teachers," she said. "Some of them were downright rude, because I wasn't a teacher. They made me feel as if I did not know what I was talking about. Their attitude is, 'this is my domain'. But you can't let it get you down, can you?"

Mrs Callaghan first worked in admin in the chemical industry, where she was a finalist in the Chemical Industry Young Person of the Year Award in 1988.

She does not lack experience in schools. She returned to her old St Helens secondary school as a photocopy technician, moved quickly into roles in computers and finance, and gained an accounting qualification at night school.

She eventually became business manager at Cowley language college in St Helens, overseeing a £10million budget, and would like to become a head in the next few years. But she said: "It will be a very brave board of governors that first offers me a job as a head".

Some unions and employers refuse to consider non-teachers as heads. The National Association of Head Teachers says that only teachers are equipped for the job.

Mike Rye, the leader of Enfield council, north London, and a deputy head at a Hertfordshire school, said business executives would not be made heads in his authority.

But John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said Mrs Callaghan, with her extensive school experience, was the kind of potential principal envisaged.

He said: "Trailblazers often have to take the flak, but it is disappointing that some other potential school leaders were not prepared to think outside their own experience and recognise Kerry's qualities. When she decides to apply for headship, I hope governing bodies will recognise the worth of her track record."

Mrs Callaghan received further encouragement from Cameron Sheeran, her boss and headteacher at Cowley Language College, who said she had played a valued role in the school's leadership team. He said: "I wouldn't be very happy for managers to be parachuted in from industry, not understanding the school or the community.

"But Kerry has 15 years' experience in schools. I would like to see her as a head one day."

Mrs Callaghan said most teachers wanted to be in the classroom: "Not many headteachers teach now," she said. "Teachers should be teaching. I should be doing what I do, which is to manage."

ASSEMBLY SHOCK FOR PRINCIPAL

Nothing in life - absolutely nothing - can prepare a principal with no teaching background for taking assembly at 8.30 on Monday morning. That is the experience of Dr Mark Bailey, headteacher at Leeds grammar, who came into the job seven years ago without having been a schoolteacher.

While the idea of parachuting in business executives to run schools has proved controversial in the state sector, Dr Bailey is one of several non-teachers leading independent schools.

The former England rugby international had tutored history and sport at school in his twenties before becoming a medieval history lecturer at Cambridge university. With three years' experience after that as a bursar at the university's Corpus Christi College, even he was surprised that the governors at Leeds grammar appointed him headmaster.

He said:"It was a risk for the school, there's no question, and also a professional risk for me."

There was some opposition from the teachers' union locally but, aside from that, he said his new staff and the community were willing to judge him on his performance.

"You have to understand the complexity of the job, from picking up litter to major strategic financial decisions," Dr Bailey said.

"Because I had some financial and legal training, I found I was better equipped to handle some issues more confidently."


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