Talking Heads Blog #12: Harry Kutty

Leadership Biography

Name: Harry Kutty

Phase: Secondary

Sector: 11-16 State Comprehensive Education

Region: Southampton

Years Served in Education: 17 years

Years Served as a Headteacher: 4 Months as HT, 2 Years as Associate HT

Leadership Journey:

I have worked in three comprehensive schools, all of which you could describe as having ‘complex contextual challenges’. It is these challenges that I and others drew inspiration from and made us want to be the best that we can be for our students. The battle to close the gaps for those who are the most disadvantaged has been going on long before the whole pupil premium thing! Having started my career as a teacher of Business Studies and Economics and I went onto   the following leadership roles: Head of Vocational to Head of Year to Head of Key Stage to AHT to DHT to Associate HT to HT (phew!)

Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration:

As I sit at my desk, on a Saturday morning, carrying out HT`s Catch-up for a student that did not meet our school`s standards; my greatest inspiration comes from Mahatma Gandhi. “Be the change that you wish to see in the World”. I am a firm believer that others will follow, if you lead by example! Over a 17 year career, I have met and will continue to meet lots of individuals who unwittingly do this day in day out. I draw deep inspiration from these individuals and thank them for this. They say the greatest leaders are those that stand aside and create the next generation of leaders. This was certainly the case for my ex Head, Ruth Evans who led with great passion, vigour and most importantly humility. I learned a great deal from her in the 7 years we worked together.

Twitter Handle: @HKUT77

Blog: Not yet … but if I get better at managing my time then who knows!

Leadership Reflections

Why did you become a Headteacher?

It’s very easy to overthink and overcomplicate the answer to this question. I know … I`ve just done exactly that for the last 30 minutes! The simple answer is that I want to make a difference! I care passionately about helping to secure the very best life chances for our youngsters, enabling them to lead happy and successful lives. Wanting to make a difference and having confidence that you can make the difference are two very different things and I have been on a journey of “Can I … Can’t I” over the past few years. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been driven to achieve the best outcomes for the students in my care, but when it came to the big one … I wasn’t so sure of myself! Being the Headteacher of a school is a big responsibility – could I step up to the plate? Being appointed Associate Headteacher helped enormously – a true stepping stone between DHT and HT. I was able to test out some of the aspects of Headship that I had not had much experience of. I`m grateful to my ex-Head, Ruth Evans, for giving me that opportunity – the best CPD I could have had at that stage in my career. It was now clear – I want to make a difference, I can make a difference, I do want to be a Headteacher and I want to be the next Headteacher here, at my school.

My Head announced her retirement last year; one application, three days of interviews later, I was appointed to my dream job – The Headteacher of Cantell School in Southampton.

Why do you think it is important for Headteachers to still teach?

I still teach and love it! I have one Business Studies group and I also teach in our alternative provision. I teach because this is where I feel at home! I have a real passion for my subject area and want to impart the knowledge and experience I have gained to others. There is nothing better than teaching a group of students, learning from each other and engaging in challenging debates and discussions. I also thoroughly enjoy the ‘banter’; born out of strong relationships and mutual respect.

By continuing to teach, I also gain an experience of policy in practice at a ground level; enabling me to take a 360 degree look at the impact of policy on student outcomes, student well-being, staff workload and so on… From marking and feedback to data entry at each collection point, to taking part in the whole school research projects, teaching provides me with a real empathy of issues faced by my most important stakeholders – staff and students.

It`s tough being a Headteacher who teaches but certainly for me, at this stage, the benefits far outweigh the costs. The greatest challenge has been avoiding missing too many lessons because of meetings, conferences, going out on OFSTED inspections. The key has been to ensure there is always a contingency and I`m pleased that it worked really well in the first term.

How do you talent spot/nurture aspiring leaders?

Creating leaders at all levels has and always will be a big priority for me. It is important to recognise that leadership does not always mean coming out of the classroom. Indeed my starting point for creating leaders is at teacher level. Do teachers feel empowered to teach the way they want because they are confident this will have the best outcomes? Do teachers teach in an environment where risks are encouraged and mistakes are welcomed if learning points are taken on board? Do teachers feel they have a role in the development of policy and practice? Is their feedback welcomed and any criticism seen as constructive to help raise standards? This is all integral to creating leaders in the classroom and also helps to identify talent for the future.

When I was first appointed as HT, I made it very clear that ‘future-proofing’ our school was just as important as the work we are doing in the here and now. You can only really do this by creating strong leaders and I was clear that I would be periodically asking myself and the Senior team … “ who will be the next…?” Not that their appointment to a post would be a fait accompli. Actually far from it … much more about what CPD do we need to provide to make it happen for that person for here or elsewhere. Throughout my career, I have been a passionate advocate of vertical enrichment; offering staff the opportunity to carry out work that ordinarily and traditionally might have been done by someone more senior. You will never here in my school the words “ I need to hand that over to…” because staff are encouraged to run with things and see them through to the end. Fostering this culture is critical in spotting and nurturing aspiring leaders.

How would you like to affect change in the system?

Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration!

Developing strong strategic partners for me is fundamental in an era of change and uncertainty. ‘Goal-posts’ continue to change year on year for both the Primary and the Secondary sector and there is a funding crisis looming, that could bring a tsunami of issues for our schools. If we do not work together to counter these external influences, they will undoubtedly limit our ability to positively influence the life chances of the youngsters in our care. Whatever partnerships are formed – hard/soft federations, multi-academy trusts, local cluster groups, LA Trusts, PIXL etc…; it is important that it is underpinned by a strong balance of support, challenge and ultimately holding each other to account. I do not believe partnerships should be mutually exclusive and for me it is important to work with a wide range of partners.

What is going to make the difference is the strong moral purpose we all have and our unshakable principles focused on being the best that we can be. Together, we are a powerful force and if we do not affect the change …. then who will?

What have been the highs and lows of your role as Headteacher?

I`ve been officially Head for 6 months but those 6 months feel like 30 years, so I`m suitably qualified to answer! That sounds negative but I don’t mean it to be. It`s been a real learning curve and I have enjoyed nearly every minute of it! I say nearly every minute because there are some things that I have had to deal with that don’t impact on students. Those things that you just have to do, but you know you would rather be on a learning walk or speaking to students, or in a meeting with staff. Dealing with those issues are tough but a necessary evil and that’s why having a strong team around you really does help. They are a constant source of support and challenge but importantly good cheer and humour; essential characteristics to be on my senior team. The joys are always about the students and staff. Students who, everyday give you something to cheer, laugh or cry about. It is the little things that have given me the most joy. Seeing confident and articulate young people developing their ambition, drive and resilience; supported by hardworking and dedicated staff – this is what brings me the greatest joy.

What makes you get out of bed every morning?

In my previous school – this became a real challenge – for me and for others. That soon changed when I moved to Cantell as Assistant Headteacher in 2008. What was previously a job became much more than this. My Head through her care, passion and compassion created a school where the needs of the whole community were the single most important factor. That all we do; day in, day out, should be focussed on this and nothing else. I joined a real community and one where I was told every day that I could and was making a difference. The Sunday blues became something of the past and I relished the challenge of making a difference.  I was empowered and know that empowering others to be able to make change is significant in my school. What, in the local community became ‘Cantell can’t spell, through our joint efforts became ‘ Cantell can do’. Our community hasn’t changed but what we do has and together we are creating something very special!

Leadership Advice

“Make time for reflection”.

In order to be a true completer finisher, it is important to reflect in order that the right decisions are made at the right time. Sometimes the most difficult thing is not the problem, it’s the opportunity to reflect on the problem. Make that reflection time possible.

Leadership Inspiration

I periodically go back to a book that inspires me a great deal – Around the World in 80 Days by Michael Palin. As a young boy, having watched the series with my Dad, I would dream about the places that I could go and see; the adventures I could have and the people I could meet along the way. The book is full of opportunity and this is what I want for all in our community – opportunity.

Leadership Mantra

“Never say what more could we have done.

Always ask what more can we do now and make it happen!”


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