The Circus Tent


When our oldest daughter was young, we took her to the circus. Through a toddler’s eye she had watched the great show roll into town and pitch up in our local park. With a toddler’s broken English she had begged us to take her along to view the show. The great canvas tent a kaleidoscope of colourful panels rose from the sea of spinning lights on the fairground rides.

But as we walked from the car to the big top, our daughter began to cry. She was terrified of the circus tent as it drew nearer. The darkness and noise within did not enthrall her, it threatened her.

“Commiserations”, said the voice on the end of the phone line. “It didn’t happen this time”.

Earlier in the day I had spent 6 hours in a range of interviews and observed tasks aimed at judging my suitability for the Headship at a school consistently judged outstanding. The job represented a massive departure from the roles I have been used to carrying out during my career and was exponentially complicated by the fact the school is scheduled to double in size to 1000 pupils in the next two years.

The morning had been spent teaching lessons which were observed and graded. This is unusual but reassuring as it showed the school was seeking a Head who understood teaching. That was followed by an hour locked in a room in which a fictitious set of school data needed to be read and a plan of action devised. After lunch, I was given an hour again, locked in a room to devise a presentation to give to a panel of three governors outlining how I would keep the school operating at an outstanding level while it rapidly doubled its pupil population. Finally a two hour interview with the same panel in which I would answer a range of questions.

That was four days ago. Yesterday, the local inspector, the one with the booming dramatic voice of a frustrated thespian visited me in my glass box to provide feedback of the day and a detailed perspective as to why I didn’t get the job. His was a familiar tale.

In 15 years of headship I have interviewed for 8 jobs. I was offered half of them. The other 4 eluded me because the school governors elected to the interview panel deemed me unsuitable for their needs. That’s OK, I understand that I will not be a match for every school, even if I perceive it as so. What is of interest is that in every case, in each of the four where I have been knocked back, the feedback identifying a reason why has been almost identical.

“You have to realise,” the thespian inspector bellowed as he stared at me from a theatrical angle, “your personality is too big and colourful for some people. It scares them.”

Big and colourful. The circus tent flashed through my mind. Scary to some it seemed but I knew inside it was fun.

Four times I had received the same feedback.

Four times the school had chosen to enter the tent.

Keep the Faith,

The Head

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