Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

 You are in: Talking Point: Forum
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 16:59 GMT
Award-winning head teacher, Sue Hyland
Nicknamed the "Turnaround Tornado" for transforming her school in Houghton-le-Spring, Sue Hyland was the secondary school winner of the Leadership Trust Award in this year's teaching awards.

She joined us for a live forum and answered your questions.

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:


Mrs Hyland, 46, said: "As head teacher, you can provide imagination, but you need a strong team behind you. I've got the very best, and without them I couldn't have done it."

The awards, now in their third year, were designed to celebrate and publicly acknowledge the work of outstanding teachers in schools across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But the awards are undermined by the continuing flow of teachers out of the profession - being highlighted by the National Union of Teachers this week.

Highlights of the interview:


Congratulations on the award and thank you for joining us. I will start with a deceptively simple question from Angela, London who asks: Is it possible to turn all schools around?

I should perhaps explain to people that you took over just before school inspectors basically said that your place was going down the pan.

Sue Hyland:

Results had been going down for seven years - they called me a "Turnaround Tornado" which was quite funny really. I don't see myself as that but we have made a lot of improvements over the last three years. Is it possible to turn all schools around? Well the first thing I would have say is that not all schools need turning around. There are a lot of really good schools doing an absolutely super job so there is no need for anyone to go along and turn them around at all. On the other hand I would also say - a bit of glib answer - is that you can always make difference. I am sure that every head teacher will tell you at any school that you can always make a difference, you can always improve and you can make things better and most head teachers will tell you that that is there mission in life - it certainly is mine.

At the same time I don't believe in the concept of a super head who can come in with a quick fix and turn things around within two years. I think experience now tells us that where that has been the case - and you have had the so-called super head turning things round - in a lot of cases the differences have been cosmetic and there haven't been sustained improvements. If you really do want to make a difference and improve a school, it is a long-term process. We have done a lot in the last three years to make the school a much happier place, achieving much better results - we are not there yet. I have still got a lot of work I want to do at Houghton Kepier to make it even better. Our motto is nothing but the best will do and I am determined to go on and achieve that. There are no easy solutions but I think you always can make a difference if you have got the vision, drive and determination.


Sevgi Ozgungor, USA: How do you think winning an award will improve your school? What is that makes a difference? How do you turn round a school?

Sue Hyland:

There are two separate questions there. How will winning the award improve the school? I don't think winning the award will improve the school at all. But I think what it has done is brought us into the public eye a little. It has given the children a big buzz. It has given the staff, the parents, the local community a real big buzz. Everyone has heard about, seen it on the media - they are all absolutely thrilled to bits that we have been recognised for the difference we have made. Simple things, like having the BBC videoing our school was just so important to the youngsters - they really took a pride in seeing our school on television. It hasn't improved the school but it's been lovely to have the recognition for the work that we have done in improving things.


You talked about enthusiasm, commitment and hard work in turning around a school but in a practical way, what is it that needs to be done?

Sue Hyland:

I can only talk about the school that I'm head of. There were three major issues when I took over that Ofsted picked out as needing improvement. One was leadership and management - and I had only been there four days so I don't think that was down to me - but it was leadership and management at all levels. How we sorted that? I developed a strong senior management team under me and I provided the leadership, the direct - worked on the role of the heads of department, heads of year, all the middle managers. I gave them the time to manage - they didn't have enough time to do the job properly. Gave them clear job descriptions and encouraged and supported them in staff development.

The behaviour and the attitude of the children was a problem as well. It wasn't as good as it could have been by any stretch of the imagination. There was a lot of poor behaviour in class and around the school. We instigated a firm behaviour policy, based on mutual respect. It is called a positive discipline policy. We negotiated with staff, we negotiated with children and we set out clearly what our expectations were of the children and what would happen if they didn't follow them.

The quality of teaching and learning wasn't as good as it could have been. There was a lot of unsatisfactory teaching. I worked with those teachers, with support - some left the school and retired - others improved. We brought in a lot of new teachers as other teachers left so the quality of teaching improved. We provided in-service training on what makes a quality lesson. We looked at accelerated learning techniques, we invested heavily in ICT to widen the range of teaching and learning styles. Giving people a belief in themselves, raising morale, providing the enthusiasm and at the same time making the school a place where children want to come. Giving them the fun events, giving them the "Children in Need", giving them the "Comic Relief" etc. the wide range of lunchtime activities and clubs we now offer. It is not one thing, it is a whole range of things - just making the school a happy community.


Tom, London: Do the teaching awards really mean anything - surely most teachers would prefer a pay rise?

Sue Hyland:

Who wouldn't always want a pay rise.


The awards are meant to raise the status of profession generally aren't they? That's one of the reasons for having them. Do you think that works?

Sue Hyland:

I think it is starting to. When they were first introduced in 1999 a lot of people were deeply cynical about it and I think morale was perhaps, dare I say, even lower than it is currently amongst teachers and I think the thought of more money in everybody's pockets would have been more welcome to people. On the other hand, I am firm believer in a culture of praise and reward - we believe in that at school with the children, I believe in that with staff. I go out of my way to say please, to say thank you and to commend things well done. I think anything we can do for teachers that raises their profile, that raises morale is absolutely superb.

If you had been in London with me on Sunday - in fact the whole weekend was fantastic. It wasn't just about the 10 national winners - there were 114 regional winners there and they all had a lovely time. They were treated well, they were in a lovely hotel - they all went away with a laptop, including me, which was a nice prize for us all. So I think they all went away feeling much more positive about themselves and I think the more we can do that the better it is. It happens in every other walk of life, it happens in television, it happens in film, the media, sports etc - why not for teachers as well. The more good things that you publicise, bring recognition to etc., - the better.


Eric Sivertson, Texas, USA: A massive number of teachers flee the profession every year in Texas. This seems to be a worldwide problem - what do you think could be done to improve the situation?

Sue Hyland:

I have to say that it is not my experience. In the last three years - we have people moving on, promotions etc/ and some resignations - we have taken on 30 staff and I can honestly say that of those 30 only 1 has left the teaching profession, now that is not a high percentage. So it is not my experience that teachers are leaving the profession in droves - certainly not in the North East of England although it might be different down in the South. I do know there are more problems there.

What can be done to prevent it? I think we have got to attract more teachers in. We have got to make it more high profile. The things we were just talking about - the teaching awards - we have got to make it a desirable profession. It isn't an easy job. Teachers - particularly newly qualified teachers - have a really tough time because they have got so many lessons to prepare, preparation to do. It is wearing - you work long hours - anyone who thinks that you turn up at five minutes to 9 and you disappear at 3.30 is in cloud cuckoo land. All the new teachers we have got are there early and they stay until 5.30 at night - they put in time at home, they put in time at weekends. So it is long hard slog. I think what they have done in Scotland in trying to restrict the hours has been very popular there. I think a similar sort of gesture by the Government here in England and Wales would be welcomed.

I was horrified when the weekend that we started in September, there were headlines everywhere that heads had been scrapping the barrel to get new teachers in and that anyone who was coming into the profession was an "also-ran", that was just being taken on because they happened to be a body. That was appalling. I was taking on 10 teachers - 8 of them were newly qualified and all of whom had had stiff competition to be recruited to our school. They had read those headlines and I just felt so sad that they were coming into the profession and they were knocked before they even came in.


But having said that, the figures show us that a large proportion of those coming into the profession will not make it through 3 years. What's going wrong?

Sue Hyland:

I think that it is difficult when you start teaching. Discipline is difficult. We have not got very much authority in schools these days and if the school climate isn't right and if the senior management team, for example, don't support new teachers, then they will become disillusioned.

Pay is an issue still. You can earn more in many other professions rather than as a newly qualified teacher. So there are things that need to be done. Whether more money can be put in to reduce the teaching load, for example. It is difficult.


Can I pick you up on the discipline question. I know from talking to teachers myself that this is a big concern especially in secondary schools. Katherine in London asks: Children and young people seem to be less respectful of authority these days. How do you tackle this issue in your school?

Sue Hyland:

The first thing we did was that we introduced a new simple code which was based on the word respect. We all think relationships are very important - relationships between teachers and pupils. If you shout at pupils today they will just shout back at you and tell you where to go. We don't do that. We speak to the children with respect and we expect them to respect us and they do. If you treat children properly, they will respect you.

Furthermore you involve them in things - you consult them. I have got a very active student council and consult with them. They ask for things and provided they obey certain conditions, they get them. An example was they wanted a drink machine, snack machines etc. so that they get access to them at break times and lunch times. I was more than happy that they could come into school but the condition was that they didn't drop litter everywhere. But again it is consultation. Getting the children to respect you is not easy - you have got earn their respect these days, it is not automatic. It doesn't matter if you are going in as head teacher or deputy head teacher - they have to regard you as firm but fair and on their side. If you go in and do all those things - if you like children and treat them respectfully then they will co-operate and work with you.

Some of the most outstanding and inspiring teachers are rewarded for their efforts, at the national teaching awards.Top of the class
Big prizes for inspiring teachers
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Forum stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Forum stories