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Headteacher Case Studies

Meet Headteacher Cynthia Rowe

Cynthia is Headteacher at How Wood Primary School & Nursery in St Albans. We asked her about her career so far.

Can you describe your journey into teaching?

I became a teacher in my late thirties after realising my vocation whilst working as a learning support assistant for a child with cerebral palsy. It wasn't a simple journey as I first had to gain maths GCSE (I had failed this at school) and following that, complete an access course. I had three young children at the time, and it took me three years to achieve the qualifications I needed before embarking on a 4-year BEd. I became a deputy head four years after qualifying, a role I enjoyed for eight years before becoming a headteacher.

What support do you get as a headteacher in Hertfordshire?

In my first year of headship, my school subscribed to Herts for Learning's Headteachers' Induction package. I had training specific to my role and had a mentor who supported me throughout the year. My HIP (Herts Improvement Partner) was also a great support and was at the end of the phone to offer advice at all times. St Albans has a head teacher consortium who meet monthly and this was, and still is, a great support network.

As a headteacher, what are you looking for when recruiting new teachers?

I look for teachers who have a passion for education that includes a commitment to delivering creative, culturally inclusive learning for the children they will teach. They must have high expectations for all children and understand that although teaching is a demanding job the rewards are immense.

What support is available to staff at your school?

Mental health and wellbeing are of the highest priority in my school for children and staff. Every member of staff has employee assistance cover which entitles them to a vast range of support, both professional and personal.  CPD is crucial factor in ensuring staff feel supported in their work and HfL offers a plethora of training which is offered to all members of the team.  New staff have a detailed induction and if needed, are mentored by a senior staff member.

Is there any additional support available to school staff from minority backgrounds?

We believe in equity and equality - inclusion. Everyone is valued and represented in the curriculum subjects, in resources and in the environment. We celebrate difference and promote equity and equality in all that we do. Staff are encouraged to join forums that are specific to their needs such as the recently formed School Staff B.A.M.E. Forum.

What is it like being a person of colour as a HT in Herts? Has this meant additional barriers for you?

I have never seen my colour as a barrier to anything however, I have experienced racism in my role particularly in the form of unconscious bias. The most common form of this is visitors to school, from other professionals to delivery people, not expecting me to be the head teacher and looking somewhat shocked when I am introduced as 'the head teacher'.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out as teachers?

My advice would be to keep the children at the centre of everything you do. Be friendly, polite, kind and honest. Have integrity and stand by what you believe. Work hard and laugh a lot 🙂

Meet Headteacher Margaret Chapman

Headteacher, St Albans Girls' School

Can you describe your journey into teaching?

I always wanted to be a teacher and impart my love of rocks and the landscape to all! My undergraduate course in Geography and Geology only cemented my career aspiration and so continued directly from my undergraduate degree to a PGCE programme, both at Aberystwyth university. I was the first person on the course to gain employment in North London, far removed from West Wales and the rest is history! Remaining in North London for half my career and then for the last 17 years moving into Hertfordshire afforded me a great breadth of different leadership opportunities across the curriculum and pastoral realms, from assessment to timetabling and safeguarding, whilst also afforded wider opportunities including London Challenge and school to school support which I continue today.

What support do you get as a headteacher in Hertfordshire?

The guided programme for aspiring Headteachers when I was deputy head in north Hertfordshire was really superb in gaining an insight into life as a Head and the first year mentoring/coaching programme with a serving Head was a great opportunity to talk through issues in my first year of headship. Subsequently, it is the quality of Heads in Hertfordshire both locally and further afield which ensures that there is always great wisdom to call upon if stuck or unsure, as well as superb support from HFL and their high quality team

As a headteacher, what are you looking for when recruiting new teachers?

Passion, enthusiasm, subject knowledge and empathy - key qualities that ensure a successful teacher.

What support is available to staff at your school?

We have a targeted bespoke programme to meet the needs of all staff from the ECT programme to a buddy system for those arriving for promoted posts, ensuring that all staff feel happy and a sense of community enhances performance. Feedback is also crucial, from staff voice to positive workload groups, wellbeing activities throughout the year and termly meetings with unions, an open communication highway is essential for all staff to feel a sense of belonging and encourage high levels of personal success.

Is there any additional support available to school staff from minority backgrounds?

We have been able to focus on positive recruitment as a result of our school’s participation in the HfL Great Representations programme which is highly endorsed.

How has your school adapted to teaching remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We were very lucky to be early adopters with all staff having a chrome book and all students being able to access technology to ensure that all lessons were live online with their usual timetable, including form time sessions with form tutors and regular assemblies. Our ‘Covid keeps’ from this time have resulted in the introduction of blended learning across the school and online parents’ evenings, with flexibility to ensure that there is no barrier to student and family engagement with school and learning.

Does remote teaching have any impact on a teacher’s performance/development?

The flexibility of home learning has been great to ensure that all students can continue to be accessing their learning but in no way replaces in-school varied teaching and learning opportunities and face to face lessons from trained subject experts. Teachers of all experiences grow by sharing ideas and skills, this is best placed within the school environment and benefits the whole school community.


Meet Headteacher Simon Horleston

Headteacher at St John's CofE Primary School

Can you describe your journey into teaching?

I did an RE Degree, followed by a Primary PGCE, and later a Masters in Education with supported credits.

Key steps along the way have been strong mentorship and opportunities to progress, although in different schools.

As headteacher I am part of a supportive local schools network and have also benefitted from Herts for Learning training courses and the Hertfordshire Improvement Service.

What are you looking for when recruiting new teachers?

We have a really thorough induction process for new staff, including peer support and a wellbeing offer as well as good professional development.

I am looking for enthusiasm and willingness to grow, someone with interpersonal skills as well as strong subject knowledge and the capacity to follow the school ethos in behaviour management.

I’m committed to increasing diversity too. Our vision at St John’s is ‘finding the light in ourselves and each other’ which means that we recognise and celebrate the gifts and difference in everyone, including ourselves.  Naturally, this has formed a core part of our spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) offer, but after completing a curriculum audit in 2020 with the focus of identifying diversity links we quickly realised that our SMSC offer was not embedded in the curriculum to the standard that it should be. Following on from this assessment, I knew that I needed a strategic approach to addressing this curriculum concern and so started with History.  If children can see the impact that others who look like them have had, then this will inspire our children to make an impact too.  

Understanding the importance of children seeing themselves represented led me to thinking about our workforce - it is 100% white and it doesn’t represent our school community where 26% is made up of many different ethnicities other than white. As a result, I’m broadening my search and I’m advertising vacancies in as many different areas as possible.  Before doing so, I developed an equality statement for our job adverts and I have thought carefully about the messages that are given by our website and prospectus so that it is evident that we are welcoming and inclusive.  

Currently, we are working in collaboration with Herts for Learning to develop a ‘Race Equality and Anti-Racism School Self-Evaluation Framework’ which will provide a clear strategy for next steps that we will then be able to prioritise.  It is essential that what we do as a school is not just embedded in the fabric of the school but becomes second nature for everyone, not just the leadership team.


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 Early Career Teacher (ECT) 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.

Meet Headteacher Helen Melidoro

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 Helen Melidoro, who has been Headteacher for three years. She discusses how important the support has been and why people should teach in Hertfordshire…

How did you get into teaching and what has your career looked like so far?

I had an unconventional route into the teaching profession.  My first career was in Human Resources working for the doctors' trade union, the BMA but,  once I had my children, I started volunteering in schools and caught the teaching bug! 

After completing a PGCE at University of Hertfordshire, I was fortunate to start my teaching career at Broxbourne CE Primary in 2005 with the late Shirley Whales as my Headteacher and mentor.  As she did with many of her staff, she encouraged me to continue my studies;  training as a SENCo and middle leader, teaching across all phases before becoming Deputy Headteacher in 2016.  I might have stopped there but I took the plunge into headship (having just started my NPQH) in 2019 - little knowing that 2 years of which would be in a pandemic!  The school was Requires Improvement and it was undeniably a steep learning curve but a wonderful place to work and develop as a leader.  Following a successful Good Ofsted judgment and SIAMS inspection,  I was encouraged again to step into a larger school, becoming Headteacher at Morgans in April 2022 and am happily getting to know all 380 children!

What do you love about working in Hertfordshire?

I have only taught in Hertfordshire but have friends teaching in other authorities who say how lucky I am to have the support of Herts for Learning and HCC -  never more so than during the COVID years.  Whilst schools are at liberty to source advice from any provider, I really appreciate the value Herts for Learning can bring to all aspects of school leadership.  Hertfordshire has an enviable reputation both in training and developing its teachers but also developing the leaders of tomorrow!

As a Headteacher, what are you looking for when you recruit new staff?

Recruitment starts with the first visit to the school.  I believe that visiting a school before making an application demonstrates an applicant's investment in the selection process but also ensures that the school is right for them also.  Recruitment is a two way process and it is important for any applicant to get a flavour of the school's ethos, the children and staff before applying.  Viewing during a normal school day should help you decide if the school is a match for you.  My advice on completing the application form would be to match your evidence to the person specification and give examples of how you have demonstrated this knowledge or skill.  Make your application stand out with headings, bullet points and evidence of the impact you have made on teaching and learning.

Do you have any advice for those starting out as teachers?

Your job list will never be complete!  Teaching is a job that can overwhelm you if you think you need to achieve everything on your to-do list.  My advice would be to prioritise, put the children's learning at the forefront, be organised but equally know that sometimes you just have to deviate from the plan and trust your instinct!  Most of all, I would say enjoy the small wins, ask colleagues for help and advice and, most importantly, enjoy making a difference!

Do you have any advice for those looking to move into leadership?

Leadership is not a qualification or achieved by teaching for a finite number of years.  I believe that talking to colleagues, being reflective and open to new opportunities will take you to leadership at every level.  Don't think because you are either too young, too old or lack that certain qualification that you cannot move into leadership.  I was fortunate to have a mentor that inspired me to keep learning so my advice would be to find that someone who has faith in you and take the leap into Headship - you'll never look back!