Inspiring to be…a Primary Deputy Headteacher

Our ‘Inspiring to be….’ series is about gaining an insight in to the different careers and roles within our schools. There are undoubted challenges to working in front line education today, and we wanted to talk to some of the inspiring people about their roles, challenges and why they are passionate about what they do.

This week we talk to Guy Brigg, Deputy Headteacher at Dr Radcliffe’s Primary School.

‘Inspiring to be…a Primary Deputy Headtacher’

Guy has been teaching for 22 years and currently works at Dr Radcliffe’s CE Primary School in north Oxfordshire. This is Guy’s 3rd school and in each he has worked hard to promote performing arts and theatre as well as developing a love of music through his work conducting choirs and junior orchestras.

Dr Radcliffe’s School has 210 children on Rolland has a mixed rural catchment. They generally have a high level of engagement from their parent body but also a significant number of children from socially deprived areas. 10% of pupils are on the SEN register and they have lower than national average for Pupil Premium.

Guy was very proud to be awarded an MBE this year for his services to Oxfordshire’s young people as a teacher, anti-bullying campaigner director, choreographer and performing arts practitioner. The citation was for Services to Education and Community in Oxfordshire.


Tell us about your role as Deputy Headteacher and what your typical day looks like?

I teach Year 6, am the school’s designated safeguarding lead, history coordinator, lead teacher for Able, Gifted and Talented Children and Deputy Head, so my role is wide ranging with teaching responsibilities as well as my senior leadership duties. I am also in charge of performing arts across the school – the school has gained a reputation locally for its work in the arts and has just been awarded Artsmark Gold for the fourth time in 15 years reflecting their outstanding provision across all art forms.

Being a Deputy Head means that you need to try be a model of excellence in the school; be inspiring to other members of staff; and be a leading example of good practice in the school. Typically you would be in charge of at least 1 or 2 important curriculum areas – which in my case is coordinating performing arts across the school, being in charge of safeguarding, discipline and pastoral care.

My role sometimes includes carrying out lesson observations and learning walks. I provide opportunities for less experienced staff to observe me – particularly students or NQT’s. Staff who may be struggling with discipline issues will often come and watch me to learn my discipline strategies or ask for advice on how to manage challenging situations. I am a firm believer in constantly looking at ways to be innovative in my teaching and encouraging staff to do the same. Years of experience has given me the confidence to do this and the strength to understand that if something goes wrong you can use it as a learning point. You have to be prepared to be the person who will take risks, try new things and disseminate new, exciting and fresh ideas to staff.

I believe I also have a responsibility for staff morale. There will times be when it feels like you have to deal with lot of parental complaints, or challenging children or difficult situations and you have to try and keep everyone moving in a positive direction. It is easy to fall into a ‘them and us’ mentality – the most effective schools are the ones which work in partnerships with parents not against them.

My safeguarding responsibilities can take up about 10% of my time in a typical week. As the designated safeguarding lead, I am responsible for student welfare, pastoral care and anti-bullying. This will encompass speaking to staff about safeguarding concerns, disseminating information and safeguarding updates. It also includes making referrals where necessary, sharing information with specific staff or the whole staff. The role includes keeping staff informed about the latest developments in safeguarding and ensuring training is up to date for all staff; this also means checking and helping to maintain the central safeguarding register.

As a Deputy Head you are link between staff and the Headteacher. So I need to provide effective communication between headteacher’s and SLT’s vision for school and the staff. I am also expected to contribute to the strategic vision for school as part of the SLT. One of the features of effective leadership is having purpose and ambition for your school. There are times when you have to have difficult conversations or you have to the lead school in a certain direction which means providing strong leadership to the staff so they can understand the point of what you’re doing and buy into the vision.

The world of the Headteacher can sometimes feel quite remote – the functional aspects of the role mean they can be absent and staff may not have as much contact with them as with other colleagues. So making sure staff understand what the Head is trying to do for the school is a key part of my role as Deputy Head; you are in a sense the liaison between the head and the staff and vice-versa.

Obviously a key aspect of the role is that you have to be prepared to step in and deputise for the Headteacher; be the public relations persons e.g. dealing with a difficult situation or parental complaints; be the face of the school; deal with discipline issues; be the person who stands up at the ends of performances and thanks staff or children; or even be the person on the microphone at sports day commentating on the races and welcoming the visitors!

What are the aspects that you most enjoy about both teaching and being a Deputy Head?

Being a Deputy Head is an interesting role because it is not as well defined as other roles so it is very diverse. The range of issues and duties you have to undertake or deal with can vary enormously. You have a sense of having a foot in both camps -being part of the staffroom but also having vision for the school alongside the Headteacher & SLT.

As a teacher, I enjoy the relationships that you develop with your class and the unique relationship you build with each different class. As I’ve got older and more confident with my teaching practice, I am more confident to try new techniques out, different ideas and projects. For example this year for the first time we are doing a promenade production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream this is where the audience follow the performers round and you perform different scenes in different locations. I also adapted and abridged the script for this form the original text for the first time ever instead of using a published version. Another example of inspired learning happened 10 years ago during a circle time session – I happened to mention to the children that one thing I’d always wanted to do was to take a class of children to see a West End show and they said ‘well, why can’t we do that…?’ and I said ‘I don’t know!’  Anyway the upshot was, we did it, they raised all the money to pay for themselves to go (around £1500) and now we go every year and it is a major feature of the Year 6 calendar – all from an off the cuff remark.

My message to new teachers is to be courageous and be experimental. I fear at the moment that young teachers are too afraid to be brave because of the restrictive nature of the national curriculum. They need to be encouraged by leadership to do that and try new things. Examples of this might include: come in one day and try a lesson you haven’t planned; go with where the children take the learning. Sometimes teachers are conditioned into thinking they have to be so thoroughly planned it leaves little room for creativity. Teachers feel so scrutinised which means they can end up with formulaic lesson and unstimulating teaching because they are afraid to try new things.

I believe there is a fundamental misunderstanding about lesson planning – you don’t have to try to write down every single thing you are going to say or do – of course you need to know what your aims are or what the learning intention is, but thinking on your feet is a fantastic skill – often the lessons you plan least for end up being the best and the ones you plan most rigidly do not come out as you had hoped. Teachers need to learn to trust their instincts again – they are the experts, they know what is best for the children in their care.

I enjoy having an influence over developing someone’s career and teaching style and being able to Influence the direction of the school, my school has really gone in the direction of performing arts because I’m passionate about it. I am a strong believer that performing arts develops children across all curriculum areas. It builds confidence and working as a team; and helps to give students the confidence that they need to go on to secondary school.

I have a say in what goes on within the school and a strategic overview with the ability influence the direction we go in which is very rewarding.

What are the most challenging aspects of your role?

The most challenging aspect of my role is dealing with constant government directives and managing those. Every time there are curriculum changes or new advice is disseminated to schools – this has to be implemented in a way that is manageable for staff. A good example of this would be new safeguarding procedures which need to be kept on top of; legally, I have to make sure all the correct procedures are in place. I also need to keep abreast of the latest government thinking and what OFSTEd will be looking for if we are inspected.

Dealing with parents and parental expectation is probably the other main challenge. Since I first began teaching over 20 years ago the expectations on teachers have increased exponentially. As primary school practitioners we have always been expected to be concerned for the welfare of the whole child but I do feel the weight of responsibility more keenly now than ever. Wrap-around care can also mean that schools are responsible for not only educating but often feeding and caring for children before and after school. Managing parental expectation needs to be done sensitively and in a way that demonstrates the school, is ambitious for its pupils but at the same time has to be realistic about their abilities and areas that need developing – this is not always easy. Part of my time is taken up talking to parents and dealing with situations where relationships between class teachers and individual parents have broken down.

What skills and attributes do you think you need to be a Deputy Head?

I would say that the most important skills you need to be successful are:

  • Good diplomacy and interpersonal skills
  • Good communication
  • A good sense of humour.
  • The ability to create a team.
  • The ability to lead and convince others to buy into your vision.

Your work around anti-bullying was one of the things that was recognised in your MBE. Tell us a bit more about that…

I have been fortunate enough to have worked for two headteachers who were / are keen on staff developing themselves professionally; this has allowed me to develop my wider professional responsibilities beyond the school and into the partnership and county-wide.  One area has been through my work in theatre education with young people, the other has been in developing a training programme for teachers and adults working with young people to help them challenge homophobic bullying and language in their settings. To date I have worked with over 500 adults through speaking at conferences and running staff training sessions in individual schools.

I think homophobia, biphobia and transphobia (HBT) is a massive problem and endemic in many  schools.  Schools don’t realise how big a problem it is until they really dig down and look into the culture of bullying and language amongst their student body. If you look at statistics, Stonewall report that 90% of secondary school teachers hear the use of overtly or casual homophonic language on a daily basis. Young LGBT people and those who are perceived to LGBT, still identify as our most vulnerable group in all surveys. Due to the nature of this type of  bullying and the fact some young people are frightened to report it EITHER:  A) because they are worried of being thought of as gay OR B) because they are gay and don’t want their parents, friends or teachers to find out – much of the bullying goes unreported. We have to create an environment where young people feel safe to report HBT bullying and a culture in schools, where LGBT people and their contribution to history is celebrated,  and where HBT language is as unacceptable as racism or any other type of prejudice. Some schools do fantastic work others do not acknowledge there is a problem – this needs to be addressed and there needs to be more strategic thinking and a more planned approach across our schools nation-wide.

OFSTED Inspectors are also now specifically guided to find out what schools are doing to tackle LGBT language and bullying so it’s a very relevant issue for all schools. I work closely with the Oxfordshire Anti-bullying Service helping specifically to tackle bullying and prejudice against young LGBT people and families of those who are perceived to be LGBT or gender non-conforming.

I have written my own training package for teachers and staff working with young people, centred on my own experiences of being bullied as young LGBT person and the lessons that can be learnt from this. The sessions are free and take staff through a range of exercises and guidance on how to tackle homophobic language and bullying.

I am proud to have helped to move Oxfordshire to 6th on the Stonewall Equality Index in 2016. Last year I spoke at the Stonewall Education for All Conference at the QE2 Centre in London and this year I plan to encourage all secondary schools in Oxfordshire to devise their own dramatic presentations to tackle LGBT bullying.

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