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Richard Sheriff

Richard SherriffExecutive Headteacher, Harrogate Grammar School, CEO of the Red Kite Learning Trust

“There was no great masterplan to become a head teacher,” says Richard Sheriff, now Executive Headteacher at Harrogate Grammar School. “I became head of a subject, took on additional responsibilities and gradually realised that instead of influencing just 30 students in a class, I could help shape the lives of 1500 students. That is really special.”

He admits that he did worry if he would be up to the job: “Every teacher has stories of working for heads who are strange, weird, bonkers, just poor or are failing. Would I become one of those?”

“Everyone seems to have worked for a head who is weird, bonkers, poor, even failing”

Richard says it is easy to think that the head’s role is just a next step in career progression, but it is a completely different job. He adds: “In my first Ofsted inspection as a head, I light-heartedly said, well I’ve only been here three months. The inspector brought me up short, ‘It’s your name on the report, no matter how long you have been here’.

“And that’s why training and preparation are so important. You need to be ready when you step into the job. To do that you need a period to reflect, discuss with your peers and understand what is happening in the job. There is a body of knowledge associated with school leadership that extends across the whole diverse range of responsibilities that head teachers need, to be effective. You also need a good mentor, someone who is honest with you but can help build your confidence, so essential in any leadership position.”

He says the most important part of preparing to become head, which is provided through the Red Kite Alliance’s teaching programmes, is to reflect on why something did not work and what made something go well.

Richard adds: “I was one of the first heads to go through the new NPQH training when it came in some 20 years ago. It gave me the tools for the job, a knowledge base to tap into and an understanding of what leadership was really all about. It is an excellent process and I believe the heads we have in Red Kite have the values, skills and attributes to support and challenge others who are going through this.”

Tips for future head teachers

Richard’s tips for anyone thinking of becoming a head teacher are...
Don’t feel you have to rush to get your headship. You need to make sure the job will suit you, your family and be at the right time for you in your professional development.
Be prepared that this is not a job, it is more of an obsession, a way of life.  You can’t finish it at the end of the day and the responsibility is with you every day of the year.
Learn how to make effective use of a secretary or PA. They are absolutely critical to being effective – managing your diary, recording actions, getting the right papers, making sure your guests feel welcomed and looked after. It’s worth talking to a secretary and asking them about the role and what you should do to get the best out of the relationship.
Get yourself a pair of comfortable shoes! A head should not be in their office all the time but out and about – don’t stop walking!