Talking Heads Blog #29: Lee Ryman

Leadership Biography:

Name:  Lee Ryman

Phase: Primary

Sector: Independent/Charity

Region: Oxfordshire

Years Served in Education: 25

Years Served as a Headteacher: 14

Leadership Journey:  Literacy Consultant/Acting Deputy/Head

Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration:  First teacher, Enid Pulleyn and First Headteacher, Charlie Clare

Twitter Handle:   Not active


Leadership Reflections:

Why did your role/ school appeal to you?

I am in the privileged position of doing something that I have always enjoyed and wanted to do: teach in and run my own school. Having worked in mainstream education for most of my career, and tired of ‘swimming against the tide’, in 2003 I resigned as the head of a Junior School, aiming to open a primary school, where I would be able to work with more autonomy. The Treehouse School, currently a small, independent non fee-paying primary school, was founded in Cholsey, Oxfordshire, in September 2005. I think that The Treehouse may be the first school of its kind in the UK, in that it is neither a Government ‘Free School’, nor in receipt of any public funding, or fees from parents. It is a charity.

Why did you feel you needed to opt out of the system?

For a long time I had felt that the education system was heading in the wrong direction, and we, that is headteachers, teachers and Governors, were being asked to do things that were not in the children’s best interests. It’s difficult to explain, but I have a deep feeling, an instinct if you like, about how I believe we should be educating our children, which even after many years of consideration and reflection, I sometimes find difficult to articulate. Impatient for change, and getting on a bit! I felt that it was time to try out an alternative. Whilst this option didn’t necessarily sit well with some of my principles (I have always been committed to state education), I felt it was my only option and, longer term, hope that our work will influence the national picture.

How do you create a culture of wellbeing?

When I was a child, I loved school, every minute of it. My brother, just a year younger than me loathed it, counting down the days to the next weekend, holiday and ultimately, the date when he would be able to leave school forever. Now, a highly successful, hardworking farmer and loving parent of four, his struggle to read and write fluently continues to this day, resulting in him describing himself as “thick”. Here is a man who can diagnose and treat sick animals, construct barns from scratch and be relied upon for his integrity, work ethic and kindness. Sadly his strengths and skills were not recognised or valued by the education system, neither were his interests acknowledged.

In terms of creating a culture of wellbeing, I don’t have all the answers but do believe that if we focus on and value an individual’s strengths, include them rather than isolate them, and offer a broad, rich curriculum, in which there is some time for children to follow their own interests, they will thrive.

How would you like to affect change in the system?

My goal is to demonstrate that there is a ‘healthier’ educational alternative for both children and all those involved in educating them. If I had three wishes they would be:

  1. That formal education started at the age of seven, with high quality play-based provision available for all children prior to that;
  2. That schools were left alone, free from inspections and testing, for between three and five years initially, to enable them to reflect upon and redesign the way in which they work;
  3. To begin to take a longer term approach towards educating the next generation, establishing an independent education department, comprising highly regarded educationalists e.g. Sir Ken Robinson, Julie Fisher. This team would be tasked with the development of a research-based policy, with children firmly at the centre which would form the basis of our work with children over the next 20 – 30 years.


What makes you get out of bed every morning?

Rewarding, motivating and challenging, my work at The Treehouse satisfies my emotional and intellectual needs, and I genuinely enjoy what I do. I continue to want to make a difference, and feel on a good day, I achieve that. Furthermore, I enjoy working with and being around children. Even during the most difficult periods of my life, when either personally or professionally I have found myself in seemingly challenging and sometimes impossible situations, it is the children, both in terms of the energy , enthusiasm and creativity they bring, and my commitment to them, that has kept me going.

What are you most proud of?

During a recent inspection, which was not the easiest of rides, the inspector described the children as ‘highly motivated, caring, keen to learn, resilient, resourceful and able to solve their own problems.’ I was thrilled and felt that we had achieved what we had set out to do. As she left, the inspector told me that I was the first head who had thanked her for a ‘Requires Improvement’ grading!

Leadership Advice:

After some consideration, I suppose the best piece of advice I have been given was that:

‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’.  

In the past, setting and achieving goals appeared to be much easier; now the goals I have set myself are more challenging, and I deal with more adversity, conflict, failure and disappointment on the way.   However, I am resilient, and never question my ability to accomplish them.

Leadership Inspiration:

I am just coming to the end of Pasi Sahlberg’s ‘Finnish Lessons 2.0 – What can the world learn from educational change in Finland?’   Not the easiest of reads, but worth it after a challenging Ofsted inspection earlier this year, when I was forced to question and revisit some of my key beliefs and values around educating children. This book has reaffirmed my thinking and confirmed that I am on the right track!

Leadership Mantra:

“Less is More!”

 lee ryman


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