A Different Journey Towards Primary Headship

By Charlotte Rowley


Charlotte Rowley shares her thoughts on a different leadership journey towards Primary headship and offers strategies for new leaders.

A bit about me…

I began my career in 2011 as a secondary English Teacher. I was a bright-eyed and enthusiastic trainee with a love of pedagogy, a passion for working with young people and the never-ending entertaining moments as well as hilarious one-liners that come out of teenagers’ mouths. I am proud to say, that I remain just as animated and am grateful for the opportunities that I have been given to solidify this love for the vocation of teaching even further.

After two years I was fortunate to achieve a role as a Head of Year, the route that I always knew I wanted to venture down. Supporting and nurturing the young people in my care pastorally was something that I loved. Coupled with this role, I also led on PSHE and Citizenship across the school, gaining insights into subject leadership too. At the same school, I led staff CPD and worked closely with trainees and Early Career Teachers.

In 2018 I moved to another secondary school and began a new role as Assistant Headteacher. A key responsibility within this role was Key Stage 2-3 Transition, which I found so interesting. Working with the primary schools in and outside of our multi academy company (MAC) and supporting children on their step-up to secondary school gave me a valuable insight into the Primary experience and I carefully contemplated that headship in a primary school setting could perhaps be the long-term goal for me.

Over my three years as a senior leader, I shared this goal with the headteacher. To gain further experience, particularly of the strategic development of primary schools I became a Foundation Governor for a local primary and several months following this I was offered the opportunity of a secondment as Deputy Headteacher in one of the schools within the MAC, which after an application process and interview became substantive.

Since this, between June 2022 and June 2023 I spent twelve months as interim Principal at another primary school in our Collegiate, which was invaluable experience and confirmed that Primary headship is the role that I wish to work towards.

How I adjusted and learned from others…

When I first moved over to the Primary sector, I embraced the opportunity to learn. We should all as teachers and leaders within education, be advocates for our own learning and champion this within our practice. The passion and fervour for developing ourselves, creates and fosters a culture of learning, aspiration and goal setting for both staff and pupils, which surely is why we do the job that we do.

I recognised when I made the move to Primary that I should be proud of my achievements to date and ensure that I use my leadership knowledge and subject specialism within my new setting, but I also appreciated that I was working with very experienced teachers and leaders who could also teach me.

This openness to learn and recognition that sometimes people know more than you and that’s ok, was important to hold onto. I did not have all the answers (do we ever?). But this collaborative approach builds relationships and achieves more in the long run, because it creates a culture of sharing good practice, while empowering others, showing to them that they are valued.

How it all links together…

As someone who has always seized CPD opportunities and never likes to stand still, having new goals and aspirations is important to me. Continuing to develop my ‘craft’, adapting my teaching and leadership and taking it in another direction was something that excited me.

I honestly think that every teacher in their career should at least observe or if possible work in an Early Years classroom. I was blown away by the self-regulation, independence and complexity when I first watched the lessons unfold. These skills are what we try and develop at secondary level, yet at ages 3 and 4 children seem to possess these with organic flair. The level of depth and planning that goes into preparing an Early Years environment is staggering and so joyful. We can learn such a lot from these practitioners and the children within their class.

I predominantly worked closely with upper key stage 2 when I first became Deputy Headteacher. Having taught key stages 3-5 helped enormously because I knew first-hand the expectations at secondary level and it enabled me to challenge pupils, thus, continuing to use my subject experience and knowledge. Sharing real Year 7 and 8 style lessons for the more able learners gave pupils a sense of enthusiasm, as well as ambition and drive.

Working in the Primary sector also helped me to realise even more that some children really do have genuine anxieties and worries about transition. They have the protection of one classroom, one teacher, a cloakroom, a small dining room (certainly compared to high schools) in their microcosm. They are then suddenly immersed in a setting which is three times the size of their primary school (more if a small or single form entry primary) as well as having to adapt to a new timetable, lessons, students and teachers. It can be very overwhelming.

Using my knowledge of transition and secondary teaching certainly helped, as I was able to share with Year 5 and 6 children how exciting secondary school is, inject some positivity and enthusiasm for the step-up, as well as provide children with specific tools to become more independent and resilient learners, in readiness for their first year of high school.

So ultimately, although this was a big change after ten years of teaching and leading within high schools, I have come to the realisation that leadership is leadership and that all of us who work and lead within education, no matter what phase, should share the same common goals – that we want to develop young people and give them the best opportunities and memories of their school life, paving the way for their future so that they look back in fondness, but also look ahead in readiness for the next stage in their school life and / or professional journeys. If we lead with heart, this will be achieved.

There is so much that Primary colleagues can learn from Secondary and vice versa, which should be tapped into even more to create and strengthen relationships between schools, but also to ease the transition for learners as they take the leap to key stage 3.

Some advice…

Below are some points that I hope will inspire and motivate, particularly if you are thinking of taking your career down a different path:

  • Tell people what you want: My own drive, ambition and love of learning has led to this point, but I am also so grateful to have accessed professional coaching and truly believe that this has supported me and given me the confidence to be open about goals and to not be shy about sharing these. It is not arrogant to have dreams and vocalise them. Coaching helped me to realise this and gave me some tangible steps (many of which I have included within this article) to assist in getting there.
  • Ensure you get the most from your performance management / appraisal process: Set out targets and CPD that you feel will support and help you to achieve long-term goals. This sounds so obvious, but all too often they are seen as ‘tick box’ exercises and they shouldn’t be.
  • Recognise we are always learners and should embrace this: Showing a love of learning sets a positive example to those whom you lead and those whom you teach. Pass on that passion. It creates a positive buzz and fosters a culture of collaboration and growth.
  • Ignore that ‘Imposter Syndrome voice’ and recognise and appreciate that you have worked hard to get where you are: It’s often too easy to think that we are undeserving of new roles or that we don’t know what we’re doing, but hard work pays off and it’s crucial to remember that and that you’ve worked for where you are.
  • Be brave and take that leap! When I look back, it’s true that the most challenging moments and the times where I have been encouraged to stretch out of my comfort zone have been the most valuable. This doesn’t mean that they have been seamless, but they have been character building, eventful and wonderful learning opportunities. For that I am truly grateful.

Transition, particularly for key stage 2-3 pupils will always be an interest of mine, as it bridges my background of both Secondary and Primary. Supporting our learners with their next steps is so important to me. I also, however, feel strongly about developing and empowering staff with the next stage in their career and I hope that my own narrative and transition inspires them.

My advice is to take that next step, it may just lead to a staircase of opportunity!

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