Meet Headteacher Neil Hassell
Neil became the headteacher of The Hemel Hempstead School in September 2018 and has been surprised and delighted with what Hertfordshire and Herts for Learning have to offer in support, training and development.
“I have worked in four authorities, in maintained schools and academies, in standalone settings and in one of the largest multi-academy trusts in the country. Herts for Learning (HfL) is by far the best support structure I have experienced.
Because HfL is school-owned and run by proven school and system leaders, its focus is right where it should be: on training, services, advice and support that allows headteachers to maximise impact and outcomes in their schools.
Hertfordshire is a great place to work. On the one hand thriving modern towns, great road and rail links to London and further afield, yet an area of natural beauty with fantastic sporting and outdoor facilities and spaces.
As a teacher in Hertfordshire, you get the full diversity of a truly comprehensive intake with young people who have a thirst for knowledge and an energy to succeed. I genuinely cannot see myself now working anywhere else”.
Meet Headteacher Jenny Sherry
Being a headteacher has many responsibilities but one of the most important is ensuring that staff are happy, supported and working towards their career aspirations. Jenny Sherry, Headteacher, spoke to Teach in Herts about how schools in Hertfordshire help those who are looking to start or continue a teaching career in the county.
What has your teaching journey been like?
When I was younger, I always told everyone that I wanted to be a teacher. I knew I wanted to go to The University of Hertfordshire so that I could stay at home, work and pay my way through university, which is what I did. This gave me lots of access to schools in Hertfordshire and I secured my first role through one of my placements.
The first five years of my career were at the school in Hertfordshire that I had one of my teaching practices in. It was hard but they gave me all the experiences I could have wanted. One of the schools I had supplied at during my career had asked me to come in as they had been put in special measures. It was not long before a new headteacher came in and asked me to take on some more responsibility and I did. She asked me if I would take on more and I slowly kept developing to the point where I would be looking at a deputy head role at some point in the future.
I did some leadership training and I started to think about the next stage in my career but for personal reasons, I moved away from Hertfordshire to the West Country to start a family.
After living in the West Country, why did you want to return to Hertfordshire?
I missed working in Hertfordshire and wanted to continue to progress my career in the place where it started. I started back at a school that was getting some intensive support. HfL advisers have such a good experience and rapport within schools and I very quickly built up an increased network of people. I got my first deputy head role and then took on an acting head role. It all progressed very quickly but I enjoy a challenge.
What support have you had from being in Hertfordshire in terms of your own personal development as a headteacher?
When I took on my first headship, I knew it was a challenging role and through the Hertfordshire Improvement Partnerships (HIPs) and consultants at Herts for Learning, we were able to turn the school around quickly. It was great to know there was always someone that could come in and support any aspect of the school. I am passionate about the fact that the Hertfordshire School Improvement programme is really focused on making sure that headteachers can be supported to do some quite challenging things in some tight timescales. I was able to get support inside school and to access the community as there are good networking opportunities available.
What support is available to school staff in Hertfordshire?
The first thing we tell any new starter at the school is what our support package is, and find out what areas they want to develop.
When a new teacher first joins us, we look at the HfL NQT induction and conference to support them. As staff progress, we identify their training and development needs whether that is for individuals, year groups, clusters or whole school. We have had HfL subject specialists and resources in areas such as assessment, maths and English.
We are passionate about investing in our staff whatever the stage of their career.
When you have a vacancy and you are interviewing, what are the key characteristics you are looking for in a new teacher?
I want someone that is realistic about teaching, because it is a challenging and rewarding job in equal measure; it is very rewarding but I do not want to sell people a myth because there are times when it can be stressful. It is a full time job throughout the year; it is just not evenly distributed.
I want them to visit and get a feel for the school and the culture; each school is unique. I am not always looking for the finished article but I am keen to find someone who has passion and is willing to have a go!
In terms of NQTs, is there anything you are particularly looking for?
I am expecting them to be reasonably confident in front of a class of children. I remember my first day as a teacher, as the children walked in I suddenly thought, “Oh my, where do I start?” as it can be overwhelming. I want someone that is realistic about the challenges they are going to face.
How do you support staff that are new to Hertfordshire?
We support any staff that join our school – whatever stage of their career, age or career background. I had a teacher that came to work here a few years ago who came in, really impressed me in his interview and observation. We offered him a role and he said he would really like to take it but would have to move to the area and sort out somewhere to live. By the afternoon I had found somewhere for him to stay and he has now been with us for two years and is buying his own house.
We always want to provide support to any new member of staff, especially if they are relocating. All teachers at this school are happy to help and welcome new people into Hertfordshire, whether that is sharing the best routes if you wanted to cycle or the best places to go and visit. We had four NQTs a couple of years ago and they are all still with us currently.
Meet Headteacher Andy Scott
Andy is excited to be starting his new role as headteacher at Watling View Special School in
St Albans and lets us know about his journey to this point.
How did you start in teaching?
I initially undertook a degree in BA PE with QTS. I also led sports sessions for a local authority delivering multi sports to young people aged between 6 -18 with a variety of special educational needs and disabilities. It was here that I started to develop my passion for working with young people with special educational needs and disabilities.
What does your career pathway look like?
After university I gained a teaching position in a secondary special school. My first leadership role was a PE subject leader. I gained my next leadership promotion to become a senior teacher in charge of behaviour for learning in a 3 -19 all through special school. I then became assistant head responsible for personal development, wellbeing and behaviour.
What do you think the benefits are of progressing your career in Hertfordshire?
Being part of a special school in a county the size of Hertfordshire has a number of benefits. One main benefit has been that in my role as deputy head I was part of a number of meetings with other deputies from schools for pupils with severe learning difficulties. This enabled best practice to be shared across the county and professional strategic discussions to be conducted on the key issues
facing special schools.
What support and development have you experienced?
I have recently been appointed as headteacher at Watling View. I am excited to start this next phase in my career and to undertake this in a Hertfordshire school. I am just about to start an induction programme for new headteachers and have been allocated an experienced headteacher to support me through my first year of headship.
Throughout my career I have been very fortunate in that I have had senior leaders who both supported and challenged my thinking in applying change. They empowered me and gave me confidence to become a successful leader.
Meet Headteacher Christina Singh
Headteachers play a vital part in how Hertfordshire builds a close community of schools and academies across the county. The bond that schools, the local authority and Herts for Learning have with headteachers is crucial in how teaching staff, support staff and leadership teams progress their careers.
Teach in Herts spoke to Christina Singh, who has been a Headteacher in Watford for six years. She discusses how important the support has been and why people should teach in Hertfordshire…
What support do you get as a headteacher in Hertfordshire?
Hertfordshire has a history of respecting the role of Headteachers, and understanding the challenges that we face. Hertfordshire has always had a reputation of being on the front foot and that is what I love about it. Both Hertfordshire local authority and HfL respond to what is happening in a very proactive way. As a Hertfordshire headteacher, I feel at the cutting edge of what is happening in education.
There is plenty of sensible and balanced advice from Herts for Learning that I have found tremendously useful – particularly in my early stages as a headteacher. Even now, I use the support and guidance from HfL all the time, both for myself, teachers and support staff.
As a headteacher, what support do you give your teachers?
When I joined the school, I looked at what I wanted to achieve, which was outstanding learning in every classroom. We took away the teaching judgements, and, instead, we assessed learning. This encourages you as a headteacher to look at what the children are learning, rather than giving preference to a particular teaching style, and gave me the freedom to look at the impact a teacher is having.
When you interview for a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) what are the things you look for?
I want to see a passion for teaching, a willingness to learn and a level of resilience. I want to see a spark in somebody so I can really work with that person. The culture here is incredible; the whole team believe and share the same vision. This helps to motivate and retain staff, and they tell me that they can’t imagine working anywhere else.
Is that ethos shared by the senior leadership team that you have?
Within Hertfordshire, there is a real appreciation for the role all staff have in making a school a great place to work. Headteachers and senior leadership teams across Hertfordshire understand the importance of ensuring that teachers are professionally valued. They are doing an important job, often in difficult circumstances. My job is to facilitate them to do their absolute best.
How do you facilitate your staff to do their best?
When I am recruiting, the first thing I always do when I am interviewing a potential teacher or teaching assistant is talk to them and explain that I understand that this is quite a stressful situation for them, but I am not here to catch them out. I am here to catch them doing their best. Right from the start I make sure to meet new members of staff, give them time and get to know them. All my staff or pupils can speak to me at any moment – the door is always open.
What is available to help staff progress their careers?
There are so many training and development opportunities in Hertfordshire through Herts for Learning or school to school exchanges. We are rich in knowledge and resources. Most importantly, it is about building relationships and making sure that you are involving that person in any discussions about their development.
We have had 4 teaching assistants train to become qualified teachers. It is great to see that transition and they have brought so much skill and experience to the classroom.
What experiences can you give children outside of the classroom?
Being in Hertfordshire and so close to London but not being in the centre of the city, gives us the best of both worlds. We are in a location where we have plenty of green spaces around us. This is great for the health and wellbeing of the children.
Most recently the children had the opportunity to interview the Minister for Education and see the debating areas and MPs at the House of Commons. We look for as many amazing opportunities for them as possible.
Lastly, why would you recommend becoming a headteacher in Hertfordshire?
I think that being a headteacher is the most exciting job that anyone could ever have. It is hugely varied and you will never, ever get bored. It is a challenging job; you have to be very good at plate spinning.
Being a headteacher in Hertfordshire gives you the best chance of success because you have the support mechanisms in place. I recently did my executive headteacher training and the quality of the continuing professional development was really high. It challenged my thinking, made me self-analyse and evaluate. I now have a much clearer understanding of my strengths and weaknesses. It is about the professional dialogue that you get in Hertfordshire, which is fantastic and unique.