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HAVE COURAGE

Brave

heads “T

he thing about being brave is that it’s a kind of quiet activity,” says Allison Compton, the head teacher at Middleton Technology School in Manchester. But in September 2008, Allison was anything but quiet when she confronted a teenager who was wielding a knife outside her school, before chasing him when he ran away. Allison was outside school at the end of the day when a teenager approached, pulled out a large knife and started waving it around. He ran away from the school, towards a main road, still brandishing the knife. “I ran after him – there were about 300 children on the pavement,” says Allison. The teenager ran across the road and jumped on a bus. “I could see the bus was filled with elderly people and ladies with babies, and I thought ‘I can’t have these people subjected to this guy,’ so I got on the bus and ordered him off in my best head teacher voice.” The teen did as Allison said, pushing past her and running off. He was soon arrested. “I don’t think I did anything brave,” says Allison. “The thought just went through my mind ‘what if I get to the bottom of the road and one of my children is lying there stabbed?’ I couldn’t let that happen. I did what any head teacher would have done.” While tackling knife-wielding teenagers is, fortunately, a relatively rare occurrence for head teachers, bravery is actually a key attribute when it comes to successful leadership, says Dave Harris, the head teacher of Nottingham University Samworth Academy and the author of a new book on leadership, Brave Heads: how to lead a school without selling your soul. “There isn’t a lot of writing on bravery, which is why I wrote the book,” says Dave. 26

More than 50 per cent of the pupils at his school, a high-profile academy which opened in 2009, are eligible for free school meals, and Dave says he has certainly found his headship challenging at times. “When you work with children, there are no easy answers. This is the book that I wanted to read to help me at my toughest time.” Dave says he set out to write an honest book, one that doesn’t say heads need to be superheroes. Rather, bravery is standing up for what you think is right. A brave head, he says, will put children at the centre of everything they do. He or she is also someone who understands that running a school is a marathon, not a sprint. Identifying a long-term vision and having the courage to stick to it is a tough path to take, he says. “Bravery isn’t just about the short term, it’s about doing the right thing in the long term for the community.” Allison, who received a CBE for services to education in 2011, agrees. Middleton Technology School is in area of deprivation, but was named by Ofsted inspectors in 2009 as one of the 12 most outstanding secondary schools in the country. “Bravery is about always making things the best for your children.You have to challenge things that people don’t like to tackle, like complacency, difficult parents and underperforming staff. These things test your mettle,” says Allison. “But you have a responsibility to your community. Over a career you are responsible for many thousands of children’s lives – it’s a job that really has an impact on the future. I believe the key to a successful life is a good education and I will always go the extra mile for one of my children.” CONTINUED ON PAGE 29 ➧

LEADERSHIP FOCUS ● MARCH/APRIL 2013

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