I recall that as a young, rookie Head, I was frequently asked about my vision for the school to which I had been appointed. Indeed, I was asked before I was appointed! Answers would trip off my tongue and I could talk with passion about the future and how we would get there, but at the back of my mind there remained a niggling question, “What is meant by the concept of a ‘vision’?”. I knew I was expected to have a ‘vision’ but in the same way that I know I have a mind, I was not able to describe it in any detail; I relied on generalisations and vague descriptions.

“These days I talk to inspiring new Heads and when it comes to vision, in some, I detect the same mild panic born of confusion that I remember so well.”

As I progressed I came to understand how to formulate a meaningful and useful strategic development plan. Through various iterations I learned how to bore down to the important detail to ensure the school progressed according to my agenda. I gradually began to comprehend (usually through trial and error) how to construct a School Development Plan in such a way that it would be received with the necessary enthusiasm and support by the constituencies whose support was necessary to make it achievable. I started to have confidence that I was communicating my ‘vision’, although at the back of my mind (that vague organ) I knew I had not. I had a description, I had a sense of direction, I had defined priorities, I had a map to communicate, I had an agenda, I had a cost analysis, I had a timescale, I could create a brochure, but deep inside I knew that I had not communicated a vision.

It took a long time to grasp that vision does not emanate from a rational understanding quantified within a reasoned set of parameters, a ‘vision’ needs to be more than a description of a school and its immediate future.

“A ‘vision’, I concluded, is only found in what makes the heart of a school beat, and that is the Head.”

I came to see that it was only through defining my fundamental convictions that my ‘vision’ could be enumerated, fought for, constructed and achieved.

It was my beliefs about the meaning of equality of opportunity; my trust in an education system designed around the futures of today’s children; my faith in young people and their various and inspiring talents; my respect for those with whom I lived and worked, including my responsibility to them; alongside the desire to create a school that valued knowledge and learning above exam preparation and results, that drove what I wanted to create. In fact my ‘vision’ had always been there but not espoused in a coherent form. Had I realised this earlier I would have had more faith in my convictions.

Having led two very different schools I know that Heads often feel trapped by financial constraints, the traditions of their schools, hemmed in by the demands of their staff, parents and governors. Some are unsure about the wisdom of change because maintaining the status quo is difficult enough, but Heads who are confident and understand their ‘vision’ create their school in their own image.

Michael Spinney, Partner Headmaster
(Former Head, Glebe House, Norfolk & The Beacon, Buckinghamshire)