As a Deputy Headteacher try and gain as much experience as you can within the different areas of school leadership. You know, go and spend time with the bursar or the business manager and find out exactly what goes into constructing a budget – Alex Wilson
Alex began her teaching career in a girls’ full boarding school, living in and working with them. After six years, she moved to teach at her alma mater, North London Collegiate School, one of the top-performing schools in the country, where she remained for the next seventeen years. When she first moved to NLCS, she taught Religious Studies and History. Over the years, she progressed to become Head of Department and then Deputy Head (Pastoral) for six years before taking on the role of Acting Headmistress in the Autumn Term of 2017. Alex then moved on to her current Headship at Hull Collegiate School in Yorkshire.
You can here within this interview how Alex is truly passionate about teaching and learning. To the point that they are currently running open lectures on topics and subject of specialty which can be attended by both staff and students!
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…
[0:48] Alex’s route into teaching
[1:47] Learns in the early years
[5:36] How Alex built a successful department
[7:17] Moving into Senior Leadership
[10:33] Advice to aspiring Head Teachers
[12:10] Supporting staff as a Head, its the little things that matter
[15:14] Alex give her advice to NQT’s and student teachers
[18:40] Alex’s favourite interview question
[21:21] The biggest influence on Alex’s career
[22:04] Schools new Academic Lecture Programme initiative
Lee Stanley 0:06
Hello and welcome to Hadfield Education good to great webinar series where I interview the leading teachers and education specialists in the UK and talk to them in terms of their experiences and paths to their current successes. Today, I’m joined by Alex Wilson, who is the headmistress at Hull Collegiate School in East Ridings in Yorkshire. So good afternoon, Alex, how are you?
Alex Wilson 0:36
Good afternoon. I’m very well. Thank you.
Lee Stanley 0:38
Excellent. Excellent. So Alex, what I like to do is always start by just finding out what actually took you into into teaching and into education.
Alex Wilson 0:48
So I think it was something that was always with me. I think even going through school, I always knew I wanted to go into teaching. And so I followed a fairly traditional route from school to university to PGCE and then back into schools.
Lee Stanley 1:06
And wherever else did you initially train? And where was your first first job?
Alex Wilson 1:11
Okay, so I did my PGCE, my teacher training at Cambridge. And my first role was actually in a boarding school down in Berkshire. And it was an all girls full boarding I lived in, and it was full on 24/7 3 weeks at a time. So it was a great launch into teaching
Lee Stanley 1:33
Sounds Sounds intense.
Alex Wilson 1:36
Yes, it was a bit, but hugely fun and actually getting to know the pupils in a completely different context. Obviously, outside the classroom was was good as well.
Lee Stanley 1:47
Sure. And in terms of your initial learnings and moulding of your your teaching styles. What What were your what were your big sort of learns within the first couple of years of teaching
Alex Wilson 2:01
I think because of the subject areas that I teach, so I’m I graduated in theology in history. And for most of my career, I’ve taught both religious studies including philosophy of religion, and history. And I think the biggest thing for me was learning how to deliver discursive lessons and actually, to give the people space to have those discussions and to not be afraid sometimes to you know, where we go off the syllabus or where a discussion takes an interesting turn, and not feeling all the time that you have to stick to a very directed lesson plan.
Lee Stanley 2:41
And he moulded your style who would do your biggest influences in the early stages?
Alex Wilson 2:51
I think there were a couple of other staff that I worked with, fairly early on who I really admired. I obviously do quite a lot of lessons observations in the early days and just watching them in terms of the level of confidence and how relaxed they were in a classroom was was really what, what looked at that for me.
Lee Stanley 3:11
And in terms of successes, did you have any particular like, early stage successes with your teacher?
Alex Wilson 3:17
And yes, I think my the one of the proudest moments was in year three of teaching, that was my first A-level cohort to actually go through. So I started teaching them in my second year, the end of my third year, my first a level cohort that went through every single one of them went off to read Theology at university, which, you know, I think that said quite a lot about how much they’ve enjoyed what we’ve been doing together.
Lee Stanley 3:43
Excellent. And in terms of the next step for you, and where did that take you?
Alex Wilson 3:49
So I then moved into a day school. I moved from that boarding school in Berkshire to a large London day school, very academic school. And it happened to school I been to as a child. And going back there 10 years after I left school to join a staff room where the staff many of whom have taught me when I was younger, was it was an interesting learning curve. And that’s where I spent the next 17 years.
Lee Stanley 4:22
Fantastic and how did you settle into that environment? Because that must have been quite unnerving in some respects.
Alex Wilson 4:30
It was, I mean, having, you know, walking into the staff room for the first time were obviously as a child might have been a room you never went near and using first names of teachers, it was quite daunting, but actually there was so welcoming that I very quickly settled in and it was such a busy school that actually you just have to get on with it really and through yourself into it.
Lee Stanley 4:53
And so in terms of the the path there is that is that why you took what What was the next stage tech head of department role?
So yeah, I, I went there as a classroom teacher. Four years later, I took over his head of department. And then a few years further on, I became deputy head. And then Head of School, which was a senior deputy role. And then in my last term before I moved up to Yorkshire, I was the acting head so,
Excellent. And in terms of of taking a head of department role, how did you build, you know, a successful team? What did you What did you put in place?
Alex Wilson 5:36
I think for me, it was looking at what we were actually teaching across the school and looking for particular subject areas and courses that we were running and appointing subject specialists in those areas. I mean, I was very fortunate in the school that I was in that we had the money and the resources to be able to employ really high quality staff. And we’re also you know, being in London we attracted a very high calibre of staff to, but I think it’s getting the new really confident subject specialists who are passionate about this subject rather than, you know, worrying too much about sort of the science side of teaching, if you like.
Lee Stanley 6:23
Sure. And what were your what were your achievements within being a department head?
Alex Wilson 6:30
And well, for many years, we had the best results in one of the top schools in the country, and certainly at A-level, we had over 85% a star at a level every year. So we were academically very successful. We were also given we were in an academic day school to have two thirds of the year group taking our subject for GCSE, given that it was religious studies, which I know some parents and don’t always valued at the same level of something, say like history,
Lee Stanley 7:03
Alex Wilson 7:04
But for me, it was the fact that the subject had that credibility within that very high achieving school.
Lee Stanley 7:12
Brilliant. And then what took you into into senior leadership?
Alex Wilson 7:17
And I just sort of felt ready for the next step. I saw I was appointed pastoral deputy, I’d always been very keen on the pastoral side of school. And I, the roles happen happen to come up really and I knew I ultimately wanted to run my own school and this seemed a natural step. And if we able to,
Lee Stanley 7:41
sorry, I was just gonna say was that something that was always always in the back of your mind that you you did always aspire to be a head teacher?
Alex Wilson 7:48
I did. Yes. Yes, it was something I always really wanted to do. Having sort of, you know, worked with some incredibly inspirational heads.
Lee Stanley 8:01
Fantastic. So tell me about the the step up. What sort of challenges did you find there?
Alex Wilson 8:10
And I think I probably had all of the the best steps up in some ways, but having a term at a school that I’ve been at most of my life as an acting head, so it allowed me to sort of step up and experience life as a head somewhere where people trusted me and I kind of knew how everything worked and was able to try things out a little bit before moving into a school where, where I was completely new. And so I think I was just, you know, the timing of that was very fortunate. But I think, you know, when you you step up to being ahead, the suddenly everything being on your shoulders, I mean, I I was given a huge amount of responsibility as a deputy. I was allowed to take the lead on things that I know many deputies weren’t and that’s not saying anything about me it was the style of headship that my head has had. And she very much believed in empowering her team and preparing them for the next step. So I think for me to be in a process from the moment I became a deputy, I almost felt I felt I was being shaped for the next step of my career.
Lee Stanley 9:23
And in terms of the difference from being a deputy or Head of School, and what did you feel was was was the difference? Did you did you feel again, from the way in which you’ve been trained and supported? Did you feel that that that benefited you becoming Head teacher?
Alex Wilson 9:47
Definitely, very much. So it definitely benefited me and I felt confident that I knew all the challenges that were going to come up I may not have actually dealt with them personally. But I’ve been involved. in conversations, for example about, you know, writing budget or, you know, I was allowed to lead on things like high profile media cases, I think the experience I’ve been given meant that actually, within a sort of school context, there were very few things I haven’t at least had an insight into, even if I hadn’t been responsible directly for them.
Lee Stanley 10:25
And what advice would you give to any sort of aspiring heads, currently assistant head or deputy head in school?
Alex Wilson 10:33
I would say, try and gain as much experiences you can have the different areas of school leadership. So if you’re an academic deputy, make sure that you don’t just become sort of stuck on the academic side. You know, go spend time with the pastoral team, and learn about safeguarding and pastoral care in schools equally. You know, go and spend time with the bursor or the business manager and find out exactly what goes into constructing a budget and that sort of thing. And I was we were certainly very much trained that at any point were we to be rotated within the senior team that we could step into each other’s shoes. And I think that was a really wise way of training people up for headship that you, you, whilst we had our fans, almost users of Cabinat analogy, we all had our sort of portfolios that we were responsible for. But at any one time we were across what each other were responsible for to in terms of, knowing what was going on being part of the discussions around those areas.
Lee Stanley 11:42
Brilliant. And in terms of within school now, what successes have you had initiatives or what happens is something that I didn’t notice within your school and in particular on your school website, as an awful lot of mindfulness and well being Which obviously, in current circumstances is quite, you know, at the forefront of employment and employability.
Alex Wilson 12:10
Yes. So I was fortunate when I joined here that there was a real focus on well being, and not only just for the children, but actually the staff well being as well. And I mean, that’s thanks to a very strong pastoral team. They’re absolutely second to none, I have to say. But I think either the pastoral care and the fact that we very much encourage children to speak out they feel comfortable being a smallish school. I mean, whilst we’re over 600, in total, and within the senior school were relatively small. And it means that every child is known by name and is known as an individual. And I think that has been instrumental in making sure that we’re able to cater for them as individuals rather than as your nine or as a group.
Lee Stanley 13:03
I was just gonna say in terms in terms of the staff well being, because it seemed that there was there was quite an emphasis and a focus on that. And what what initiatives do you run?
Alex Wilson 13:16
So we have and so for any new staff join us that we have a new staff supper close to the beginning of the autumn term where all the staff go along. We have staff, Christmas parties, they sound sort of silly little things. But for example, you know, if I have a member of staff who has a child whose child is graduating on who has something, you know, an important milestone in their life, I tried to facilitate them being able to be there for that. I tend to try to be flexible with people and perhaps with young children so that if that they are free, towards the end of the day, they may be able to go and pick up young children occasionally from school and that sort of thing. And just those little things seem to make quite an impact on the staff and it’s certainly been commented on.
Lee Stanley 14:08
Yeah, definitely. I think I think that’s certainly something that if you get that right, and your staff are considerably happier arnt they, and they feel bought into and they feel supported, and if you could change anything within the education, setup and system, what would you change?
Alex Wilson 14:35
I think I would, I will try to put more emphasis on subject passion and teachers being able to teach subjects and being less bogged down in terms of syllabuses and specifications and sort of almost hoop jumping. And, you know, I would like to think that my history teachers are trading up the next level. You know, the next generation of his Historians rather than just teaching them to pass GCSE history. And so I would want to allow a degree of freedom within the curriculum within timetables for teachers to inspire people’s with the love of subjects.
Lee Stanley 15:14
Excellent. And in terms of advice to an NQT or somebody who’s thinking about going into teaching now, what would you give them?
Alex Wilson 15:27
I would say, go into some observation and look at a different range of schools and get a feel for the sorts of school you might be comfortable in. I mean, there’s such a range of schools out there. And different people’s characters perhaps might suit different institutions. But I would also say if you are passionate about what you have read at university and you want to instil that into the next generation, go for it. Because actually, there’s no more satisfying career. I don’t think not that I’ve experienced of anything else but for me, it’s very much, you know, it’s been about at subject inspiration really
Lee Stanley 16:08
brilliant. And if you could change anything, you know, click of a finger, where, where school is concerned? What would that be?
Alex Wilson 16:17
My the current school I’m in at the moment.
Um, I think I would update some facilities more quickly than than perhaps, you know, obious normal financial planning would allow for. We know we’re incredibly strong in terms of things like drama school, I would love to have a theatre here. And so, you know, rather than wait a couple of years to build up funding for that I, you know, I could kick my fingers I’d have a new fit.
Lee Stanley 16:48
And in terms of your, the outside of school, what kind of what kind of interest you have.
Alex Wilson 16:56
Okay, so I love cooking. So that’s how I tend to unwind. So I love cooking even during the week, I will always take time out to do that. And then in the holidays, I mean, this is also part of the reason for moving to Yorkshire. In the holidays, we like to be outside. So I particularly enjoy sea kayaking. Andjust being outside in the opener generally Really?
Lee Stanley 17:24
Yeah, there were some good locations for that around Hull arent there.
Alex Wilson 17:29
There are you know, so where we are sort of 10 or 15 minutes to the coast and there’s a, you know, a huge coastline here, varying from chalky cliffs right down to, you know, to sandy beaches. So we’re very lucky.
Lee Stanley 17:43
Yeah. Nice part of the world. Very nice. And in terms of book, what book are you currently reading at the moment?
Alex Wilson 17:49
Good question. I’m currently reading a book by somebody called Winifred Holtby and it’s a classic. It’s called South riding it essentially it’s about Except in this part of the country, by somebody from from this part of the country and it’s about Headmistress who I was just gonna sound such a cliche, but I have mistress who moved up from London to teach you to school in Yorkshire and try to do her thing up here. I’m enjoying that very much.
Lee Stanley 18:20
And how does it compare
Alex Wilson 18:23
what to my story? Yeah. There are some quite surprising similar similarities. But of course, it’s then it’s about a century ago, so not too many.
Lee Stanley 18:35
Okay, and what’s your favourite interview question?
Alex Wilson 18:40
Oh, gosh. I can tell you my least favourite interview. I think probably the one about something that you’re most proud of or you know, a success or a pupil or something that you’ve dealt with, that you’re most proud of.
Lee Stanley 19:05
And in terms of holiday destinations where jobs go away to
Alex Wilson 19:09
Oh, I’m very unambitious when it comes to holidays and I, I like to holiday in the UK. And so I you know, I, we we count as a family we do a lot of camping and so we we’ve been all over England doing that and we have a lot of fun. I mean, I have travelled to the far east I have you know, we’ve spent a lot of time in France in previous years but actually I, for me, there’s nothing better than getting out into the British countryside
Lee Stanley 19:37
is quite interesting. The more heads that I speak to in terms of you know what they do during the holiday time and break time The more I see that do prefer staycation and staying local or within the UK at least anyway so it’s quite interesting either thought that you’ve just wanted to cut free and you know got as far away from from school as possible.
Alex Wilson 20:02
No, I mean, I think because I camp. And, you know, we tend to do it in a fairly basic level in terms of you know, we don’t have electricity or anything. So when the phone dies, it really dies. So for me, I do feel quite cut off unable to really switch off from school.
Lee Stanley 20:17
That does some good to be honest. Yeah, to get away from technology, what would be a brilliant thing in terms of technology, and what what’s your favourite app that you use within school within your work?
Alex Wilson 20:30
Gosh, I’m probably the very last person you should ask that question to I’m a total Luddite.I probably couldn’t answer that, to be honest. It’s something we’re looking at as a school at the moment and looking at whether we might want to sort of develop more of a digital strategy. Because we are, I would say it is an area we need to do work on.
Lee Stanley 20:54
Okay. Okay. And in terms of, if you weren’t a teacher What career path Do you think you would have taken?
Alex Wilson 21:05
I probably would have done something like law had I had I not been a teacher something sort of fairly traditional, sensible, probably.
Lee Stanley 21:14
Okay. And he’s been the biggest influence on your teaching career.
Alex Wilson 21:21
Probably the head I worked for in London, and both in terms of her as as a leader, and then as a sort of direct boss when I was on the senior team,
Lee Stanley 21:34
Brilliant and in terms of life, who’s been the biggest influence in your, in your life?
Alex Wilson 21:41
My dad, absolutely no doubt about it. Yeah, I mean, he’s not with us anymore. But he was very much my sort of role model and hero as I was growing up.
Lee Stanley 21:53
Fantastic. Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time, and is there anything in particular and the current Working on any initiatives within schools that people need to know about.
Alex Wilson 22:04
And I think probably the only thing that we have launched recently that is going sort of better than I expected. So I will share this with you is we’ve launched an academic lecture programme for the staff. So the staff are giving lectures on areas that they are interested in beyond the syllabus that they teach. So I launched it with a lecture on the history of clocks. Little bit niche. I know but, but actually, you know, lots and lots of staff have signed up for these these talks. So every couple of weeks, a different member of staff will be giving a talk for the staff, but pupils are invited along as well. And it’s really nice to have that sort of joined to sort of adult children, time discussing some some academic things.
Lee Stanley 22:49
Fantastic. Fantastic. And in terms of how can people get hold of you? what’s the what’s the best way for them to communicate with you.
Alex Wilson 22:57
I just contact the school. either by phone or by the an email link on the school website and I’m happy to talk to anyone who would like to have the conversation.
Lee Stanley 23:10
Brilliant, brilliant, what I’ll do I’ll put links into the into the video and also into the the role below. And yeah, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it and great insight into being a Headmistress in your career today.
Alex Wilson 23:26
Thank you very much. No, no problem.
Lee Stanley 23:29
Alex Wilson 23:30