“Have a good think about what is it because some people see special needs schools as something which they’re not, and there’s a variety of special needs schools. So the biggest thing for me would be to have a good look around, you know, visit schools, you know, and then use that time to really think about, first of all, what is the right type of school for you is” – Chris Rue
Listen to Chris Rue’s amazing journey within Special Needs Education, which started with him dropping a suitcase off, having one interview, and is now a successful Head Teacher within Epinay Business and Enterprise School. Chris gives a truly heartfelt insight into his learns and progression within a career he never expected to have!
QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
Scroll below for show notes, transcript and links…
[00:35] Chris’s route into teaching.
[02:07] Learning and working up from the very bottom
[05:36] Moving from teacher to middle leadership fast
[07:03] Chris gives advice to NQT’s
[08:51] Learns as a Middle Leader.
[10:08] Becoming ambitious, developing the skills and experience to make the move into Headship.
[11:55] 20 years of history, moving onto pastures new!
[13:51] Big achievements.
[15:35] Current initiatives at Epinay.
[17:24] How Chris gets away from teaching.
[19:14] Education post-COVID-19.
[22:43] The biggest influencers in Chris’s teaching career so far.
[23:40] If Chris hadn’t been a teacher.
Lee Stanley 0:06
Hello, and welcome to Hadfield Educations Good to Great webinar series, where I interview the leading head teachers across the UK, and today I’m very fortunate to be joined by Chris Rue, who is the head teacher at Epinay school. Good afternoon, Chris. Thank you for being here.
Chris Rue 0:23
Good afternoon Lee You OK?
Lee Stanley 0:25
And yeah, great. Thank you, Chris. So what I like to do initially is just start to talk in terms of how you fell into education. So So what took you into teaching?
Chris Rue 0:35
Well youtalk about fallen into it. And that’s pretty much how what I did and I fell into it. I have no intention of being a teacher or certainly being a head teacher. And I wanted to be a police officer and and had it planned to the to the final detail of leaving University on the Friday and having my interview for the police on the Monday but unfortunate at that point despite doing pretty well in the interview. And rightly so that you know I didn’t have any life experience I just be at university I didn’t know how to socialise or deal with conflict it you know as a grown adult so it’s unfortunate didn’t it didn’t happen and, and To cut a long story short the gentleman that I bought them my kind of suitcase off and it was a was a practising head teacher. And when he asked me what I was going to do on returning his suitcase, I can say, well, I’ve got no idea. And he offered me a post with him for a week, and it was basically a TA posts and it’d be going into a special needs school and taking children out of each class to give teacher PPA time and I will take them into the hall and do a variety of different sports lessons. And after a week he thought I had something about us and put me on a short term contract. And and I fell in love with well what was a TA position really and that was really my first initial steps into into teaching
Lee Stanley 1:59
Brilliant And so you really did start at the very, very beginning of teaching assistant work then.
Chris Rue 2:07
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s been my best education really. So it’s all sort of that initial contract was for six months, and then it turned into a permanent contract. And what I tried to do with within the first year that our school was kind of at that time were in Newcastle, or the special schools were amalgamate, and, and, and the established school what was called Trinity school, we all had to kind of, you know, be interviewed for our jobs. And I got a job a secondary site of Trinity school as a TA. So I tried to do in my initial years was just to kind of, you know, watch and observe teachers, practitioners, and, you know, trying to kind of take the best of what I saw and put my own spin on it, and then try to do as much CPD as I could. So I think within the first 10 years being a TA and moving up through the ranks, there wasn’t a year where I didn’t do a qualification outside my job. So that took me from a TA. and I think at that time, it’s called an SNA qualification. I went into a HLTA role. They went to a more pastoral position, and where that where the head teacher finally kind of, you know, talk around to maybe should start looking at your teaching options and how we can get you qualified. And at that point, you couldn’t actually qualify within a special school because we didn’t have the national curriculum in all aspects. We didn’t have group size numbers. So we had a secondary school at the top of the hill. And it was a GTP graduate training programme, where I was basically loaned out for a year and I did my my QTS through that scheme, which which was fantastic working with another group of kids and stuff in a teacher and went back to my special Ed school and then kind of went through middle leadership qualifications and senior Leadership qualifications before I got Head of School, and then decided to kind of move on from there.
Lee Stanley 4:08
So in terms of your initial transition from being a teacher HL TA, into teaching, how did you find that?
Chris Rue 4:17
I feel like I was very lucky. Really, you know, it wasn’t the traditional, If you like, you know, from university and I’ve done a couple of placements. And then I’m a teacher. I feel like the route I took, again, accidentally really prepared me well, because as a TA, you know, my background was a big sports person. So more often than not the teacher would let me kind of take on the the PE elements of the class. And so I had lots of what I call hands on responsibilities. And, and, you know, I was able to kind of, you know, my friends were also teachers, and they were able to kind of pass on different things about planning and pedagogy. So I felt like had more experience than most people go into teaching. And the difficulties for me were more moving from teaching middle leadership. Because you can imagine, you know, that I stayed from a TA to Head of School within the same school for 19 years. So So, so some of the difficulties were that the people that were managing you, and it kind of turned itself on its head and you became their manager at some point. So I found that transition a little bit more difficult than actually going into teaching itself.
Lee Stanley 5:32
So how long were you were a teacher before you became a middle leader then?
Chris Rue 5:36
erm probably about two or three years, it wasn’t long at all. No. And again, it comes down to a couple of things. I think, you know, my age at that time was I was really keen I was doing, I was asking to do qualifications. And at the same time, there was people retiring and moving on so so I was able to kind of I felt move quite quickly
Lee Stanley 5:59
and within the And the special needs environment and a niche that you work in. Is there any any specific and sort of traits or skills that you felt have really aided your teaching?
Chris Rue 6:12
I think I mean, just to clarify the special needs I’ve been in most of my career was around what was called EBD. And now SEMH. And to work in any provision like that, you need to you need to be quite resilient. Because it is although very rewarding. It’s, it’s, it’s very challenging. And so so one of the skills are feel I hope I have is being a people’s person and having good relationship skills. Because ultimately, you need them to bond you know, relationships with young people. And so, with that, and your resilience that they’re there for me the key qualities that I’d be looking for for people within that type of school.
Lee Stanley 6:53
And my advice would you give to any like NQT that’s, you know, currently learning the trade starting out first 12 Within that teaching career,
Chris Rue 7:03
I would say always keep your options open. I think when people want to teach, you know, I think they want to teach because that’s, you know, what they’ve always wanted to do. And, and when I say keep their options open, we’re a school that’s open to NQTs and, and post graduates in the after placement or site visits. And one of the things that they always say, or the majority say is that, you know, I thought I wanted to be a secondary science teacher, but I’ve seen the primary division here or I’ve seen working in a special school and and it’s not what I thought it was. So, you know, moving into NQT and doing your postgraduate I’d be saying that people you know, have a good have a good think about what is it because some people are see special needs school, there’s something which they’re not, and there’s a variety of special needs school. So the biggest thing for me would be have a good look around, you know, visit schools, you know, and And then use that time to really think about, first of all, what is the right type of school and going into NQT year, and I always say, to our NQT’s is that just be yourself, you know, we want you to be the best teacher possible, be yourself and just keep learning. You know, we do a major CPD long across the year. But for me, I’m looking for an NQT who’s looking to thrive on learning outside of their teaching and how they can better their practice, you know, how can they now meet individual needs in the classroom, especially in a special school context where there’s lots of different needs in one class?
Lee Stanley 8:39
Yeah, yeah. Excellent. Excellent. So you movement into middle leadership and building your team within within that environment? How did that pan out for you?
Chris Rue 8:51
Well, really, because like I said, it’s the people I worked with, because you work closely with him as a TA you know, you knew the strengths but you also knew where they cut corners. You know, you knew which ones were were had had strengths in certain areas. So, of course, there’s then the manager or a colleague, you know, it’s about dealing with those aspects of development and doing it, you know, sensitively, but honestly, so that they all understand it, our expectations as middle leaders and from a senior point of view should be theirs. And that that’s communicated clearly so. So I’m going to say in general stuff with us, we’re really good. And they also had the same amount of time work with me and you have my work ethic and the way that I talk to young people and, and staff. And so it’s ultimately the majority were great, the ones where, you know, we had to have those challenging difficult discussions just took place because because they needed to because, you know, the end result was that we wanted a consistent high expectation framework in place. For all of our staff
Lee Stanley 10:02
Okay, and was the plan always to progress to become a head teacher and moving senior leadership?
Chris Rue 10:08
And no, it’s bit like, it was never the plan to be a TA or a teacher. And, you know, I think I became ambitious, you know, I enjoyed what I did. And the responsibility I was given at different levels was something that I felt like, you know, I thrived upon, you know, I wanted to learn, I wanted to listen. You know, I took on advice from leaders in terms of the type of leader that I should be, and not always agreeing, because I also feel as a leader that you know, you should lead in your own way and we’re all different. So, so yeah, I think it’s been it’s, it’s been a position that I’ve really enjoyed as I’ve gone through in terms of headship I moved from from the school I had more some education in because ultimately I wanted the reins of, of something, my myself as head of school, I had a chief executive of me. And so where I was part of their decision making, ultimately, you know, it didn’t stop with me. And sometimes, of course, you know, Chief exec will take a different decision and then that was absolutely fine. But I really want you to, I felt I was at a place and a time where I thought, you know, let’s put your own team together and give it an opportunity. So So I was very fortunate in the first interview, I went to, from a TA to to a head teacher interview, I was fortunately get enough permission so and then started off in a very small behaviour school.
Lee Stanley 11:41
And how was that? Because I suppose when you’ve been in one school for a long period of time, so then transition to a new school. How did that work out for you?
Chris Rue 11:55
And well, well in the end, but but kind of going into a well established School with long serving staff and come up with new ideas and new views on things. And that was tricky to start with. And, you know, they didn’t know me professionally or as a person. And so it would be fair to say that, you know, in the first six months to a year, that was probably the most difficult year of my career in terms of just establishing expectation and getting everybody on the same page. And, you know, we did have stuff that left within that period, for the right reasons, I believe. And what that allowed me to do was, was bring in an interview people that had the same kind of thoughts and ideas and interests and expectations. Some of them were people that I’ve worked with previously, and and as the team changed and developed it and you know, we got to know each other and we’ve gotten to a place where whether the school was functioning very well it was it was a good you know, a good school and waiting for an inspection. Whilst we’re waiting for inspection, I was offered an executive headship over this school and another school which is now my current school. And for the first time it was going into a special ed school outside of behaviour, it was more around moderate learning difficulties and ASD and and again another challenge. And so within I think the first six months I kind of just looked at I personally and I know of some friends and colleagues who are working over two and three schools, but for me it didn’t work. I couldn’t you know, shift myself from one school to the next and yeah, and keep both all the plates in the air. I really want to concentrate on one. So moved to Epinay a school of about three and a half years ago.
Lee Stanley 13:45
Excellent. And what have been your biggest achievements within you within your career so far?
Chris Rue 13:50
Erm I’m proud probably got a couple and you know, within, I think the first 18 months close to two years at Epinay, we were inspected. And although the app it was an outstanding school with around about 150 children, and our inspection was up to 170 children we’d increased capacity, the staff team have changed quite a lot. And it was the first time also that behaviour was down was good and the sixth form had never been inspected as long ago as well as the change of framework. So in two years to kind of implement all the changes and to have a successful inspection, we will give an outstanding across each area. And that for me, it was it was it was one of the you know, main positives a team positive last year, and it was it was another we were awarded and Team of the Year for South Tyneside that was, you know, for all council areas, not just education and, and I believe the first time of schools won it so, so that that kind of them for me was really important, but also Ultimately, one of the main positives for me is, is trying to create a team of, of similar thinking and similar expectations where where we’re inclusive in the way we lead the school. And I feel like we’ve got the team now in place that, that, you know, we all sing from the same hymn sheet and we’ve got a very, very tight bond so um, so that for me create creating that team of positive people and just brilliant practitioners is something I’m really proud of.
Lee Stanley 15:30
Excellent. And what current initiatives have you got going on in school?
Chris Rue 15:35
And well, as you know, of course, it’s kind of hit so that’s spoiled something so that that’s been difficult. But again, we’ve got a team approach to that and then we’re quite happy with where we’re at. We’re doing you know, the best because all of the schools are doing and but in terms of going back to school, and the biggest initiatives that we’ve used COVID for is putting a brand new curriculum in place. So not only have we revamped the full curriculum? We’ve also kind of recognised within our own practice that one that, you know, one curriculum doesn’t fit all of our children. And so we’ve developed different curriculum. So for instance, we’ve got a new life skills curriculum for a certain group of children next year, which will be totally different to what you’d call, I guess, the mainstream national curriculum. We’ve also developed in a facility called enrich, which is for another group of our children who who need additional support in class to deal with some of the trauma and issues that they’ve had in their life. So so so that put all that together. It’s been a massive team event you can imagine upon all the schemes of work together. And but but the other thing too, along with that is because it’s kind of increased its capacity we’re now kind of totally totally full and one of the things we’re looking at is moving sight. So that’s quite exciting for us because we’ve got high school which will be empty as of September this year. And we’re just in initial discussions with the local authority of them of us actually moving up in the air cross to what is the state of the art High School. So that’s quite exciting.
Lee Stanley 17:15
Excellent, excellent. And outside of work, what do you do to sort of, you know, get away from it all and you know, chill.
Chris Rue 17:24
And I mentioned a sports person, I’m getting old, but I still enjoy football and watching and playing and so I go into my third season them over fortys his football and, and I’m hoping they’ll continue doing that until my legs drop off. I’ve got start walking football. And so I love playing. I love watching all kinds of sports. And then spending time with my family, of course, children, my fiance and we like to socialise and go out and meet our drink out. And obviously, we can’t do that just know but we’re looking forward to doing that. And then just having time Just two chill, you know, recharging the batteries every weekend to go back.
Lee Stanley 18:04
Excellent. And in terms of within sort of work, what’s your What’s your favourite work application that you use?
Chris Rue 18:15
Well, that’s a good question. It worked out work application. And I guess a lot of the stuff I’m doing just now is strategic. I don’t know if this is the right answer or not. But we’ve got lots of it, you know, school bus, and the key and things like that, which I found really beneficial. So I would say the kind of search engines like that, that you know, support some of the work we’re doing, especially in a changing world with with COVID and writing new policies. It’s probably not the most exciting app, because it’s practical, but but that’s something that I think any of used quite a lot.
Lee Stanley 18:48
And how do you how do you sort of thing COVID is going to impact on the education system. Do you think we’re going to be more flexible with the way in which we deliver I mean, Obviously, a lot of schools have had to develop an infrastructure pretty much overnight of virtual learning, which some have found easier than others. What do you think is gonna happen?
Chris Rue 19:14
I think it’s been one of the positives, you know, when we look back in terms of everything that we’ve managed to do virtually, you know, is there any reasons why we can’t do this, you know, moving forward, you know, in terms of all the kind of external and safeguard meetings or looked after meetings that have all happened virtually, rather than everyone kind of coming across the borough, you know, and outside the border to one site. You know, you’re saveing a lot of time and you’re using your time more effectively doing it this way. We’ve used these zooms and whatnot for for keeping in touch with children, and by doing assemblies, we do staff wellbeing Wednesdays we can all get together after school. And so from our point of view, we’re quite excited. actually wanting to kind of reducing the time spent, you know, or meeting and travelling. But but to you know, in terms of how creative can we be moving forward of using this technology to kind of, you know, continue doing other things.
Lee Stanley 20:14
You mentioned well being stuff well being, and do you have the specific initiatives in place to safeguard staff mental welfare.
Chris Rue 20:25
Yeah, it’s sort of so we’ve got a couple of things going on. We’ve got a mental health champions in school, which is three or four staff. And what we did at the begin of COVID, in particular, because, you know, this is, this is something that none of us have had to kind of deal with, it’d be fair to say that staff as well as children and parents, you know, can become anxious in terms of returning to work. And so we set up a task force at the start of COVID. Or just after the start, which was myself and well being champions and our safeguarding lead and we set ourselves Just to kind of just first of all survey the staff in terms of how are you what are the things that if we return to school that would support your return? What communication lines do we need and and rather than me put the email or communicate with someone from within that group, and that came in confidentially if they chose, but it gives us a list of things that was, you know, some of which we thought we’d get for and some that will hadn’t, but allowed all staff to kind of vent off or kind of talk about anything that they envisaged as an issue. So so that was that that’s worked really well and we still meet weekly and we feedback weekly on the actions that we’re doing. I mentioned about well being Wednesday, and again, it’s voluntary, we can turn up six o’clock on a Wednesday night and chat about how things going the new school potentially. We have a quiz. It’s about number of kids that we’ve got in school and we do a bath prize with anyone winning, winning the quiz. And then we’ll just try to support everyone that we can who can’t come back to school, feel isolated or not refer the municipal mental health champions to a colleague or friend or to an external agency. And but but ultimately, and we think we’re doing a good job. We have everybody back on on site now. You know, we’ll have two people shielding for the right reasons. And I’ve got a large staff team. So that kind of indicates that, you know, I think we’re trying to keep everyone positive.
Lee Stanley 22:31
Excellent. Excellent. Last couple of questions, and he’s been the biggest influence in your in your actual career teaching career so far. And
Chris Rue 22:43
I don’t think I’m a one person who’s a bit that was the biggest influence. I’ve been very lucky to work with some some outstanding people and some of whom are with us today, unfortunately. But I’ve got you know, I’ve got teachers who, I guess when I was at school that I respected and Learn from it as a child. I’ve got teachers and support staff I currently work with. But I feel go the extra mile or work above and beyond. And, and from a previous employment, you know that the leaders that kind of brought me up, if you’re like through the ranks, and there’s a lot of the qualities and the things that I’ve picked up that that I would take. So I wouldn’t say one person. I think there’s, there’s lots, there’s lots of people that I’ve kind of learned from as I’ve gone through.
Lee Stanley 23:33
Sure, sure. And if you weren’t a teacher, obviously not getting into the police. What do you think you would have been?
Chris Rue 23:40
I could see myself in the top three probably taking Firminos position currently in the Liverpool team. If that was available, I would have took that and failure to be a professional footballer, but I’m probably probably a police officer, I would have gone back and tried and tried again and really, you know, respected For all our services, but the police in particular, so I think I want to trade that I’m not too sure how much I would have enjoyed the shifts. Because obviously we don’t get that in education or maybe the holidays. But yeah, I did things again. And that couldn’t be a teacher, I would try the police.
Lee Stanley 24:18
Excellent. Excellent. Well, listen, Chris, thank you ever so much for your time. It’s been really, really informative and really appreciate your insight. And I look forward to keeping an eye on your developments with with the school and the move.
Chris Rue 24:31
Great. Cheers. Thank you very much.
Lee Stanley 24:33
Chris Rue 24:34
Cheers, and you