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Neil Clephan

Neil ClephanHead teacher at Roundhay School, Leeds

Neil Clephan says his ‘less than great all-round experience as a pupil’ when he was young gave him a desire to help others later in life. As head teacher at Roundhay School, a large comprehensive school in inner Leeds and one of the first 'all through' schools in the country with students from 4 to 18, his yardstick as a teacher was always ‘would I be happy with this for my own child?’.

Neil realises now that a number of more experienced teachers were mentoring him in his early career and helped him to gain a wide experience – something which he now does himself as one of the National Leaders of Education. He spent six years as deputy head in two very different schools and built up experience ranging from curriculum, finance and staffing to managing premises and even building two schools.

Neil gained a wide breadth of experience and was keen then to take on a headship – and says he was fortunate to have opportunities:  “I’ve always seen it that whatever role you take on in a school, you have to make your mark – and the way to do that is to be genuinely interested in the staff and the pupils.  Everything you have done before counts for nothing in a new school – you are always starting from scratch.”

“Everything you have done before counts for nothing in a new school”

His deputy roles were very different and Neil says this helped him to learn and develop as a leader: “Different schools sometimes need different leadership styles.  While generally I aim for a collegiate approach, when you work with a school in difficulties you have to achieve a lot in a short time.  Sometimes there is a need to be more directive - such as when acting as an executive head of a school in an Ofsted category.  Though it’s still important to recognise that for long term, sustainable change, staff need to take pride in what they do and be involved in improving their school.’’

Neil is a supporter of the Red Kite Alliance, particularly because it crosses three local authorities: “It represents different contexts with a range of staff who are adaptable and relevant to teachers and associate staff. They are genuinely interested in schools. It has terrific potential and I’ve already seen collaboration in action that really makes an impact. Everyone really wants to make a difference to children.”

Tips for future headteachers

Neil’s tips for anyone thinking of becoming a head teacher are...
Remember that the head’s role is all about the pupils, the staff and the community – it is never about you no matter how much you might like to think it is!
Question why you want to do the role and only take it on if you REALLY want to do it justice. There is a lot that is outside of your control and you have to accept that. Don’t take it on because you think you ‘should’ do it – but because you ‘want’ to do it. It’s very demanding – as well as extremely rewarding seeing others succeed
Consider carefully the schools you apply for as the ‘fit’ must be right for success to be achieved.