Review by Gaz Needle

29 Jan 2017, 5:00

Making the Leap: Moving from deputy to head by Jill Berry

My first thoughts when I received this book was that the crevice over which the person on the cover is jumping was not wide enough!

Perhaps this is because of my own journey to headship… it was not a little hop but a large jump – and, if I am honest, I still haven’t quite found solid footing on the other side.

In the three weeks I have spent in my new role, I have likened my experience to that of an NQT. There is so much to learn and the demands on my time are never-ending.

I was hoping for some great tips in this book for early headship and the first few months, but I found a whole lot more, making me wish that I had read it three months ago when I was going through the application process.

You have to have resilience and perseverance, Berry reminds the reader

The key parts focus on three areas: applying for a headship, the lead-up to beginning the new post and the early months.

If you are applying for headship – or thinking about it – the book offers great insights into the interview stage particularly. It offers tips for interviewees, shares particular presentations and tasks that are often set for applicants, and questions you might like to consider. It also details the journeys of Jill Berry’s six research participants, who deepen the reader’s understanding into becoming a head.

Throughout the book, I found myself nodding in agreement with lots of the sage advice. One paragraph in particular made me think: Not getting a job is not the worst scenario. Somehow managing to secure a job which is not the right job for you (and then having to try to do it) is definitely worse, and it is not good for the school either.

You have to have resilience and perseverance, Berry reminds the reader. These are key traits of great leaders, and setbacks help to build these essential characteristics, although at the time it doesn’t feel that way.

The lead-in period, Berry says, is essential in a good handover from the outgoing head. The circumstances of my school meant that I did not have this, and after reading this I feel I have missed a vital part of my preparation for headship.

This section again presents a series of well-researched thoughts and distils them into sensible advice for the new or soon-to-be head. A key theme is the importance of the relationships and the networks you need to build to be successful.

Berry offers simple, pragmatic ideas for new heads

When I reached the section I was most interested in – the early months of headship – I was not disappointed. The good advice keeps coming and Berry offers simple, pragmatic ideas for new heads to gain insights to their new school: don’t be too quick to judge; support staff to do the best job they can; have an informal chat with staff at the beginning of your tenure to judge the lay of the land; go to as many extra-curricular activities as possible to build relationships; decide whether you will continue to teach.

At the end of each chapter key themes are posed as questions. These are helpful and any deputy who is thinking about making the leap will find them valuable.

My only criticism is that although it does mention internal promotion, there is a heavy focus on starting in a new school. This is probably because that is how most heads start, but I would have liked more about internal applicants.

Overall, this is a must-read for anyone who is applying or thinking of applying to become a head.

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