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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:
I should perhaps explain to people that you took over just before school inspectors basically said that your place was going down the pan.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Top of the class
Big prizes for inspiring teachers
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