Talking Heads Blog #24: Jamie Barry

Leadership Biography

Name: Jamie Barry

Phase: Primary

Sector: State (Academy)

Region: South West

Years Served in Education: 13

Years Served as a Headteacher: 5

Leadership Journey:

From securing an NQT position at the school where I completed by final ITT placement in Birmingham, I quickly moved ‘through the ranks’ taking on IT Lead in my second year followed by a position on SLT in my third year leading English & Key Stage 1. Subsequently, I moved to a different school at the end of my fourth year to take on a deputy head role and finally my first headship at an inner-city Birmingham school four years later (after some acting head/secondment experiences). I am now on my second headship at a 2FE primary school in Bristol.

Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration:

It is difficult to choose one person as I believe that everyone I meet (whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’) impacts on my own leadership style in some way. However, I have met some incredible head teachers in my career and have been fortunate to have people who believe in me and have given me chances. One of the most influential leaders that I worked with was the head at the school where I became DHT, Alisa Hathaway, as she mentored me from being a class teacher/senior leader into a deputy. There used to be times when she would infuriate me by not giving me a clear answer. However, I now realise that this was part of her plan to develop my own thinking.

I now take inspiration from a range of people, both within the Trust where I work but also in the virtual world of Twitter, and there are far too many to mention all by name. However, @chrisdysonHT is certainly at the top of my list. I have never met him personally but I find his energy, enthusiasm and commitment to collaboration awe inspiring. Education certainly needs a few more people like him.

 Twitter Handle: @JamieGBarry

Blog: (although there isn’t much there as I have struggled to get into blogging).

Leadership Reflections

Why did you become a Headteacher?

I did not start my career with a plan, or even a desire, to become a headteacher. In fact, like most, all I wanted to be was an inspirational class teacher making a difference to the lives of children. I know that sounds like a terrible cliché but it sincerely was my motivation and intention. At the end of my NQT year, I was afforded the opportunity to lead IT simply because I was the first person to have an interactive whiteboard in the school. This was an amazing opportunity and a year later, when management points were replaced with TLRs, I secured a senior leadership position leading key stage 1 and English across the school. Throughout both of these positions I maintained my focus on the classroom and teaching the children in my care. However, I did also enjoy the leadership of people and seeing how I could impact on provision beyond my own classroom.

A year or so later, when my head at the time (an inspirational guy called Dale Hill) spoke to me about secondments into a deputy role, I started to actually think for the first time about my career path. I still wasn’t clear that I wanted to be a headteacher but I was clear that I wanted to explore different roles further. Consequently, I secured a deputy head position but specifically chose this to be in a 1FE so that I could still teach as often as possible. Over my time there, which included acting head positions internally and via secondment, I became clear that I wanted to move into headship.

My motivation for this was not because of a desire to leave the classroom behind but more due to a desire about working with people across the school and between different organisations. I felt that I wanted to focus my energies on developing teams of people so that a wider group of children had an amazing experience at school.

I am now in my second headship and, whilst the reality is sometimes different to the idea, I do enjoy my job enormously. The challenges are great and the pressure is beyond belief at times. Nevertheless, I try to maintain a grip on the reason why I chose to become headteacher. Also, if I ever need a dose of reality I will simply walk the school and look around at the 500 children in my care – they will pick me up and remind me why I am doing the job.

Why do you engage with grassroots and social media?

“Those who dare to teach should never cease to learn.”

That quote was shared with me during my ITT course and it has stuck with me ever since. I may not teach on a daily basis but my role is about teaching (whether that be children directly or staff) and I therefore think it is important that I should be constantly learning and developing my knowledge, skills, ideas or expectations. I enjoy reading and having my thinking challenged – this makes me a better leader (I hope).

I am a massive advocate of Twitter as I find it such a powerful platform with a range of diverse ideas and opinions as well as helpful links, resources and ideas which have saved me countless hours of time. I think it has such potential that this year I have built it into the appraisal process for teachers and it has been incredible to see how this tool has helped develop their own thinking and practice.

Leadership can be lonely at times and I often wonder when I will get caught out (as I always think there are so many better leaders than myself). However, the world of Twitter is reassuring to know that I am not alone and there are many other experiencing the same trials and tribulations as me.

How do you create a culture of wellbeing?

There is no easy answer to this as schools are incredibly stressful places and will, in my opinion, continue to be so whilst they are so intrinsically linked to the political arena. Nevertheless, I also think that it is my job to be the ‘gatekeeper’ between the reality of the job and the expectations of whichever part is in power at the time. I need to protect staff from the pressures and lead the organisation so that we are in control of our own destiny rather than jumping at the sign of the next directive from the DfE.

At my school, we put a lot of time and energy into creating a culture of well-being. Of course, we have rewards and recognition throughout the year, e.g. each term staff nominate a Golden Staff Member who then wins a paid day of leave. As another example, we also have an annual Staff Appreciation Week which involves notes of thanks to staff from parents, pupils and SLT as well as gifts/treats and lunches throughout the week.

However, a culture of well-being goes beyond one-off events though. It must permeate structures and systems. For my school, this includes a Staff Forum that meets termly to discuss matters of the moment, an investors in people plan to ensure that well-being is planned and monitored each year and dedicated time to well-being activities (we always finish every half term with well-being activities in place of a traditional staff meeting).

How do you advocate equality and diversity in your school?

As an ‘Educate & Celebrate’ best practice school, we take our commitment to ensuring equality & diversity very seriously. Of course, all schools have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure the protected characteristics are not discriminated against. However, for me, this duty is not enough. My staff and I go to great lengths to promote diversity in what otherwise would be a rather mono-cultural school.

I am lucky to have an amazing PSHE leader who maps out carefully our curriculum to ensure opportunities are taken to promote equality and diversity with our community and a staff and governing body who are fully supportive of this. This work doesn’t come without challenges from some and there have been occasions, albeit rarely, where some families have left our school because they don’t agree with this focus. On the flip-side though we have seen some very articulate responses from children when discussing matters related to equality and diversity and we are looking forward to celebrating this work with a Pride Day later this month. 

What is your vision for education?

Quite simply, education can change the world. I want to create a generation who absolutely love learning and are curious and inquisitive when presented with opportunities to explore. I want education to be more than the churning of exam grades (I am not saying the academic rigour is not important). I want to ensure we create a generation of individuals who feel invested in, feel supported to develop in a way that realises their ambitions and who want to make a contribution to our society as they grow up.

What makes you get out of bed every morning?

The community I serve. I know that the job we do in schools is making a difference. It is not a job which is simply the completion of tasks or the tick of boxes. It is a job that is making areal tangible difference to the lives of individuals. If we don’t do it, if we don’t get out of bed then who will? Who will show these children and families that people care about them?

Leadership Advice

As I moved into senior leadership (especially deputy headship) I remember trying to be the leader that I thought I needed to be. I remember my head at the time telling me that, whilst we alter our leadership styles depending on context, that we must never lose who we are in that process.

This advice has always stuck with me and I have always tried to remember to show my humour, warmth and compassion throughout any leadership decisions or behaviours. This does not mean to say that you have to be ‘best mates’ with everyone but it simply means that you have to also show you are a person.

Leadership Inspiration

I have just arrived back from the Inspiring leadership Conference in Birmingham and heard from a whole range of inspiring leaders (some of whom are from outside the education sector). One of the most inspiring people that I heard speak at the conference, and this was a tough choice, was Drew Dudley (@DayOneDrew) and I would definitely recommend taking a look at his feed/website.

I have also enjoyed reading books by Andrew Morrish and Vic Goddard over the past few months. Two leaders who show a sense of realism in their own reflections but also with a focus on optimistic leadership.

Leadership Mantra

Children are priority. Change is reality. Collaboration is strategy.


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