For our first Q&A we talk to Mark Hartley, Head at Barnes Primary School to find out about his present challenges and achievements.
Why have you agreed to be involved in system leadership?
I am working in education for all children, not just those at my school. I am a strong believer in state education and I want all state schools to offer exceptional provision and achieve highly impressive outcomes. I do not approve of league tables – even though my school has a high standing in them. I worry about the fixation on ‘what Ofsted says’, rather than ‘what we believe will work and offer our children the best’.
I seek to empower others and see them flourish and the schools they work in thrive. The biggest sense of achievement I have felt over the last three years has nothing to do with Barnes Primary School. It was hearing that a school in a challenging area that I have worked in for three years as a consultant received a thoroughly deserved glittering Ofsted report. I was so pleased for the hard working colleagues there, all of whom I have the greatest respect for. On average each year I deliver between 8 and 10 whole days of INSET training to schools in different parts of London.
How long have you worked in education?
I trained to be a teacher at Oxford University in 1983. So, given some travelling time, I have been working in education for 33 years. I began life as a secondary English and drama teacher. I came into primary education more by accident than design, following a period of overseas travel. I have taught in Oxfordshire, Hackney, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea and Richmond-upon-Thames.
How long have you been a Headteacher?
I became a Headteacher at the age of 36. My first headship was in a school with a particularly challenging profile. It had a very high percentage of children from refugee backgrounds. Ofsted judged the school to be outstanding in 2001. Between headships I worked for three years as a School Improvement Adviser for Kensington and Chelsea LEA. I took up the headship at Barnes in 2006. The school was judged outstanding by Ofsted in June 2008. I had a book (course really) published in 2013: The Art of Teaching Writing (Routledge). I am now in my twelfth year here.
Who or what inspired you to become a Headteacher?
I wasn’t looking to be one! (really). I always wanted to keep a connection with the classroom – and I still teach six to seven hours a week: English or mathematics. I was an irritating Deputy who wasn’t as diplomatic and pragmatic as I hope I have become. The perceptive Headteacher I was working with at the time cajoled me into taking on the position of Acting Headteacher in a failing school. I was smitten. I was also inspired by doing a Masters in Educational management and Administration at The Institute of Education. Part of this involved spending two weeks in schools in New York. I learnt so much from this and came back keen to be a leader. Later, down the line, I did an MBA in Leadership and this has also proved useful.
What aims are you currently trying to fulfil in your school and what are you doing to meet those objectives?
My current challenge is to maintain the highest quality provision and outstanding outcomes at a time when there are significant financial and recruitment challenges. I believe that the standard of teaching is so high in my school as a direct results of two factors: an outstanding, multi-layered professional development programme and the retention of high quality teachers. How can we meet a national expectation for achieving ever more for increasingly less? How can we recruit professionals with potential and mould them into outstanding teachers at a time when many teachers are leaving London due to the exorbitant cost of accommodation?
What’s the best piece of leadership advice you’ve ever been given?
There are a number. The concept of totally quality management and continuous improvement put forward by John West-Burnham has stayed with me, as has Steven Covey’s research on the seven habits of highly successful people. When I was a Deputy Head, the Headteacher I worked told me how important it is not to fall out with people – try to avoid that at all costs. You’re frequently pushed to the edge as a leader. It’s so important to listen to others and try to find a mutually acceptable way forward (think: win-win).
Mark Hartley – Head at Barnes Primary School
Mark is a West London Teaching Alliance partner and delivers CPD for schools on Highly Effective Mathematics Teaching, Highly Effective Pedagogy, Maximising Pupil Progress, Reading & the Construction of Meaning and A Process Approach to Teaching Writing.