Talking Heads Blog #10: Jude Enright

Leadership Biography

Name: Jude Enright

Phase: Secondary

Sector: State

Region: London

Years Served in Education: 20

Years Served as a Headteacher: 0.4

Leadership Journey:

Accountant – PGCE – NQT – CCICT Co-ordinator – HOD ICT – National Strategies Consultant – ICT Strategic Lead in a startup academy – AHT – DHT- Head.  All in London.

The journey was complicated and involved three children, part time working and repeated failures along the way.

Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration:

  • Angela Doherty, Principal Adviser, Ealing School Effectiveness;
  • Mathew Cramer, Headteacher Greenford High School;
  • Ann Colgan, Principal Stockley Academy;
  • Jill Berry, WomenED; Glyn Bradley-Peat, Brent Schools Partnership;
  • Simon Enright, Director of Communications NHS England

Twitter Handle: @judeenright


Leadership Reflections

Why did your role/ school appeal to you?

The retiring head showed me round and the first story he told me was of a Pupil Premium student who had received mentoring to keep her in school and she had ended up going to Cambridge.  She has now set up the Promise Foundation, a great charity that supports struggling students to achieve their goals:  I very much liked that this was the first story he told me, it’s at the heart of why I work in schools.  He also spoke passionately about the community and the arts life of the school, and ended the tour saying, “Actually, I might not retire this year, I love it.”

Why are you contributing to this blog?

I have a confession to make.  Perhaps it’s because my son’s favourite poem is Ozymandius, which he sporadically speaks by heart at the dinner table; or maybe it’s that my previous head came from a Greek Cypriot background and so was determined to avoid hubris, but I am deeply reluctant to blog about being a headteacher.  Miss Wilsey’s DM-ed invitation to do this just a term into my first headship sent me running behind the sofa.

Then as people who itch to write do, I realised that I could write about that feeling, and it’s important I do.  Because headship is not the perfect hair-sprayed, Shellac-nailed, patent high-heeled vision that people expect it to be.

How do you talent spot/nurture aspiring leaders?

In the classroom, future lead practitioners are the people with the skills to explain how they teach so well and to develop others through coaching.  Future SENCOs or lead SEN teachers are the people who can explain in great detail how they meet a tricky child’s need on their lessons.  Future pastoral leaders are grown from strong form tutors.  For other leadership roles, it’s the people who develop their expertise and share it, who listen to others and synthesise their views and steer them in the best direction.  How do I know who these people are in school?  An ex-headteacher I know uses the phrase “management by walking about”.  I did lots of this as a deputy and my deputies do it too.  I walk about less as a headteacher and I am aware that I am therefore less likely to know people well and notice fully the range of talent in my school.   It’s also important to offer opportunities to develop all staff and have equitable application processes, for example associate SLT positions.  This helps those busy colleagues who quietly run the school get the recognition they deserve.

How can a person who has had a busy life beyond school still make it to headship? (For example caring for children or elderly parents; or pursuing their skills in sport or the arts).

At my previous school, it was not about where you were from, it was where you were going to that mattered.  Students came from broadly disadvantaged backgrounds and low proportions of their parents had been to university, yet we sent 111 pupils to Russell Group institutions in 2015.  As I said in my leaving speech, it was that ethos that empowered me (a mother and part time teacher/consultant when the school appointed me to assistant headship) to be a confident headteacher-in-waiting by the time I left.  The superhead narrative implies that unless you are fast tracked to headship by your early thirties, you are unworthy of the role.  Think again.  There is a pending recruitment crisis and I know you have the skills. Go for it.

What myths would you like to debunk about being a Headteacher?

As I mentioned earlier, headship is not the perfect hair-sprayed, Shellac-nailed, patent high-heeled vision that people expect it to be.  Throughout a few years of headship interviews which, looking back, defined that era of my life and left me distraught at times, I got some great feedback on my imperfections. I was told that I should not have emphasised the fact that I was a mother, that my language was too informal, that I “would not take people with me”, that I lacked a vibrant prayer life.  I would like to say that this feedback was transformational and that I studied with Professor Higgins, put my children into care, read “How To Win Friends and Influence People” and took holy orders to find the superhead within, but luckily I kept calm. I instead listened to Jill Berry, Ann Colgan and Angela Doherty, three amazing women who live in the real world of what headship is all about. And armoured with Shellac and Bobbi Brown, I finally got a great headship in a school which would never expect a woman to hobble in wearing patent high heels to fulfill the female head stereotype. A relief as they were ready in my cupboard but I can’t really wear them.

There have been many mistakes in my transition phase and first term or so of headship, and yet I am still able to go to work every day and lead, even with unpolished nails and flat shoes that are sometimes a tad muddy from the school field.  I’m in an environment where there is no pomposity, we are a community that  values every child and connects with the world beyond our school gates.  Our Co-operative values include equality and solidarity, so why would we claim to be better than other schools? We just do the best we can for the children in our care.

My prayer life is flourishing, my language is (mostly) suitably formal and staff have not revolted (yet). I am still a mother, and I talk about it. In my new school our wider families are part of our community, “growing up together” as a colleague put it recently.

We are not super heroes. But we are here.

What barriers have you had to overcome in your career/role?

I don’t have a wife or a house-husband.  My husband’s job is even more demanding of his time than mine.  For many years I did not think that I could be a head and sustain our family life.  I don’t yet know whether I can.  But my children have learnt to cook great meals this year, they care for each other, and my parents and friends are totally supportive.  It would be good to see a wider range of co-headship or job share opportunities out there, to make it possible for more people to become headteachers.

Leadership Advice

An INSET session for all staff with advice on career progression when I was a HOD plodded through how we could climb the school hierarchy and ended with “and then you become a Headmaster”.  The slide said “HEADMASTER” in big letters.  I put my hand up and asked. “At what point do you change sex?”  The Deputy Head leading the session was confused.  I repeated my question.  Several colleagues were cheering by this point.  I realised that our networks, as much as our bosses, provide us with the wisdom we need to achieve our goals and have sought advice from them ever since.

Leadership Inspiration

I am reading “Conclave” by Robert Harris.

It won’t shape me as a leader, but it will give me a clear head for tomorrow’s decision making.

Leadership Mantra

“Yes, we can”.

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