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Janet Sheriff

Janet SherriffHead teacher at Prince Henry’s Grammar School, Otley, Leeds

Janet knew that she wanted to be a teacher from the age of 11, but even after this dream was achieved she had no desire to become even a department leader, let alone a head teacher. “At that time, getting to grips with a class of 30 students was more than enough!”

On reflection Janet remembers volunteering for many additional things as a young teacher, for example extra-curricular activities, staff planning groups and CPD activities (both as a learner and a trainer). “None of these were paid responsibilities, I just wanted to engage with my students and help make their school even better.” As a result of this Janet says that her knowledge, skills, experience and confidence developed over time. “Eventually I had the opportunity to make a bigger positive difference by influencing provision across a subject area and from then on I have relished the chance to shape educational provision more widely at a range of different schools, from inner city schools in challenging circumstances to my current school, with a largely middle class intake (but fully comprehensive).”Janet says that this breadth of experience has been invaluable in her current role.

Like many head teachers, but by no means all, Janet took the curriculum route through to headship: Head of Department, Head of Faculty, Assistant Head (CPD), Deputy Headteacher (student achievement and school self-evaluation), Associate Headteacher (working with an Executive Headteacher) and Acting Headteacher.

“Some teachers are reluctant to take on leadership roles because they think that it will take them away from what they came in to teaching to do i.e. work with students in their subject area. I have never found this to be a problem… I get to work with even more students now! 

Janet has also continued to teach throughout her headship as she believes it helps to ‘keep her feet on the ground’ with regards to what she asks her own teachers to do. “I only teach a very few KS3 lessons, but I find that this keeps me in touch with the core of what we do in school…and I still love the journey you travel with a teaching group as you develop their understanding of your subject.”

When Janet was appointed head teacher at Prince Henry’s Grammar School in 2009 she was the first female head teacher in the school’s 400+ year history. In addition she was the first (and is still the only) BME secondary head teacher in Leeds. This is partly the reason why she is passionate about promoting greater diversity in school leadership: Janet is chair of the Yorkshire and Humber Diversity Steering Group and, as part of this group, she has developed the diversity Internship Programme for the Red Kite Alliance along with other equality and diversity programmes and CPD opportunities.

Tips for future head teachers

 Janet’s tips for anyone thinking of becoming a head teacher are...
Take the time to select the right school for you, where you are confident you can take on the role and make a positive difference. But don’t make your decision on face value. Take the time to find out about each school…you may be best suited to a school in Special Measures or an Ofsted ‘outstanding’ school, but this will depend upon the school itself (not the Ofsted category).
Be prepared to ask other more experienced leaders for their guidance with tricky situations …and then listen to their advice. In the end you can decide on the actions that are right for your school and its context, but at least you will have a wider range of options to draw upon.
Visibility! Especially in the first few weeks and months, when it is all too easy to be consumed by all the meetings, paperwork and the sheer enormity of the task ahead. If necessary get your PA to book ‘out and about’ slots in your diary to ensure that this doesn’t get pushed to bottom priority. Walking around your school is the most valuable activity for a new (or old!) head teacher.