Appointing a new headteacher is the most crucial decision any governing body has to make. It is not something that comes along regularly - unless you have made a disastrous mistake - and it offers a chance of pointing a school in a new direction, building on its strengths but tweaking its ethos and character.
When Derek Barnard, the headteacher of Tunbridge Wells grammar school for boys in west Kent, dropped the news at a governors' meeting in January that he had decided to retire in the summer after 18 years in the job, it was quite a shock.
It became even more frightening when we realised how tight the timetable was to advertise, shortlist, interview and select his successor. With the Easter break looming, we had to act fast. There was only three months to find a head for a school with 1,200 pupils, the best part of 100 staff and a budget of £4.5m. In the face of a national shortage of would-be headteachers, it was a daunting prospect.
Tunbridge Wells grammar school for boys is a traditional sort of a place and Barnard has been a traditional sort of head, of a type easily recognisable from my country grammar school boyhood 40 years ago: gruff, a bit intimidating, firm on discipline and standards of behaviour, keen on sport, reluctant to delegate.
He tells prospective parents that any boy who follows Kent County Cricket and Gillingham FC will be all right in his book. The walls of the corridor outside his office are lined with signed sporting photographs and he famously remarked at an assembly recently that the school believed in equality "from the head down". The headmaster's newsletters fall through parents' letterboxes twice a term, often bearing little homilies he has devised. One recently announced: "We must never knock success" (Barnard 2005). He has the boys' respect and the parents' loyalty: everyone knows he's absolutely devoted to the place. No one gets to school earlier, or stays later.
Before it became a grammar school in 1982, this was a technical school, founded in 1956 as one of the tripartite institutions arising out of the 1944 Education Act. Despite there being two other boys' grammar schools (and three girls' grammars) in the vicinity, it is now one of the largest grammars left in the country.
This is partly a function of local arrangements: because the other two boys' grammar schools, Skinners and Judd (as well as nearby Tonbridge public school), are owned by a City livery company, they set their own admissions procedures, creaming off a selection of boys who have passed the 11-plus. Our school is still a local authority school and takes all the rest of the students who passed, in an area stretching from Hastings to the London suburbs. Last year, it had a good Ofsted report.
Its ability range is wider than that at most grammar schools, with an intake drawn from the top 30% of pupils, rather than just the very high achievers. It would also be a mistake to see its intake as uniformly middle class, comfortable and affluent: about 40% of pupils come from homes where parents are divorced, or from single-parent households. Kent, with only 2% of England's children, has 10% of its looked-after children, an overspill from London, and a high number of asylum seekers. The school, housed largely in battered 1960s buildings, is bursting at the seams.
It is proud to boast among its old boys Martin Corry, the England rugby captain, and Ian Wynne, who won a bronze medal for kayaking at the 2004 Olympics. But most boys grow up to be solid citizens of our comfortable town: local businessmen, solicitors and commuters up to London.
Our dilemma as governors was to preserve the strengths that make the school popular - good pupil behaviour and a wide range of curricular and extra activities - while bringing its character more up to date and improving its key stage 4 performance.
Five governors were chosen for the appointments panel: the chairman, Michael Reidy, an expatriate American who came to teach in England 32 years ago and is now in business, his deputy, Norman Dodd, a retired businessman, teacher-governor Simon Marsh, the school's head of science, and two parent governors, Rhiannon Carney (an educational psychologist) and me. Another governor, businessman Mike O'Driscoll, and a long-serving former teacher, Mervyn Davies (father-in-law of Lord Adonis, as it happens), served as observers.
We were helped by two LEA advisers - a district education officer and a personnel consultant - and by Dr Matthew Baxter, the school's improvement partner and head of Simon Langton School in Canterbury.
We were pleased with our advert, which modestly pointed out our virtues - "excellent learning environment, exceptional programme of cultural, sports and extra-curricular opportunities"- and sought a candidate who would "be able to articulate and develop a vision to take the school into the next decade". We just about remembered to say we wanted a headteacher, not a headmaster, and to lose the word "he" in the candidate specification.
The advisers thought we might get up to 50 expressions of interest, or requests for information packs. They said some were likely to be from other local heads sneakily trying to see what we were offering and how we were promoting ourselves.
In the end, we got only 13 applications by the mid-March deadline, all but three of them from within Kent and all but one from men. There were no current headteachers among them but all were either deputies, or had senior management experience. There was one internal candidate.
This was where the fun began. Reading the CVs and accompanying statements was quite revealing and rather shocking. I had not expected that senior teachers, applying for a big school post carrying an executive salary, would be slapdash in their presentation. Some seemed to know little about applying for a job.
There were spelling mistakes and crossings-out, one of the out-of-county teachers had several unsuccessful goes at getting the school's name right, and several just ignored the instructions. One even forgot to sign the List 99 declaration, which stated that they were not disqualified from working with children. These things matter when you have only one chance to make an impression.
Almost as dispiriting were the accompanying statements outlining candidates' experience, strengths and vision for the school. Our school. One candidate - not invited for interview - just scribbled half a dozen bullet-points, which may have been honest but seemed perfunctory. I suppose it was to be expected that the statements would be full of jargon and cliches, given how that sort of language dominates educational discourse these days, but what was sad was how uninspiring most of them were. Only one applicant bothered to mention that they enjoyed teaching.
In the end, we invited seven candidates for interview, only one of whom was from out of county, a deputy head from the Midlands who had previously been a public school housemaster. The sole female candidate was also on the list.
We set aside two days for interviewing at the end of last month and devised a series of exercises to test the candidates. On the first day, they would have to talk for 10 minutes to year 7 boys in the hall about what they would do if they became head. They would then answer questions from members of the upper sixth.
In the afternoon, there would be short interviews to discuss their leadership and professional skills and an in-tray exercise to test problem-solving techniques. We threw in a few unexpected extras: each applicant had to give a two-minute presentation about themselves to the staff and all met the school council during break. It would be a gruelling day, for them and for us.
In our naivety, we assumed that, if they had reached deputy head level, our candidates would all have certain presentational skills. How wrong we were.
At least one candidate lost it in the first minutes of his presentation to the 11-year-olds. We had expected them to try a little interaction, a bit of question and answer, to gain the boys' attention. Instead, the candidate marched on to the school stage, gripped the lectern, glared at the pupils and told them he knew who they were and what they were like. I think he may even have said: "I know where you live." Another read a prepared statement, scarcely raising his eyes from his text.
A cake and an onion
Other candidates fared better. The ex-independent school man brought a cake and an onion and ebulliently asked questions as he outlined his ideas (icing equals exam results, but it's the ingredients inside that count). A number of us perked up.
The sixth formers' question session also separated sheep from goats. The lads, who will have left by the time the new head starts, asked the candidates how they would tackle the issue of a child being bullied because of his sexuality (one candidate seemed to think that was the victim's problem) and whether they would allow self-expression in hair length and earrings (no, was the answer, fashion statements were unnecessary in term-time).
The sixth-formers' opinions, circulated afterwards, were fascinatingly acute. One of the candidates was said to be too relaxed. A student said he would not be surprised if the candidate "spent much of his time at the Cross Keys [pub] with the students - he is on our level to that extent".
It took two hours of discussion to whittle the applicants down to a shortlist of four for the following morning. Each was to give a five-minute presentation on "why I want to be a headteacher", followed by an hour's interview. The field was still wide open.
All four rose to the occasion. The ex-independent school man, who had impressed the sixth-formers, gave an assured performance without entirely resolving our doubts as to whether he would be a touch dictatorial (he'd caused some astonishment the previous day when he said that he'd ordered a member of staff to take charge of the chess club).
But it was the final formal question that knocked out one of the four finalists. He was asked whether, if offered the job, he would accept it. There was a pause. Well, he said, he'd have to think about that. It was short notice and he had a house to sell ... These were all issues which he might have considered before applying. No governor likes to think an applicant might turn down the headship. He was crossed off our list.
The three remaining candidates were all good and will all make good heads. But, on the day, one stood out for us: John Harrison, the 40-year-old deputy head of Maidstone grammar school for girls. We knew he had turned the school round as acting head, following the sudden departure of the previous headteacher, and steered it through a difficult Ofsted inspection.
We were impressed by his track record, he made us laugh, he had ideas (he was the candidate who had mentioned enjoying teaching on his CV) and we think he knows how to carry them out. He didn't hesitate to answer the last question: "I'd be honoured to accept," he said. Right answer. And he's even a Gillingham fan. We hope - and believe - he'll be a good fit.
· Stephen Bates was the Guardian's education editor from 1990-93
A national crisis: no one wants the top job any more
When Labour came to power in 1997 one of its education priorities was to tackle the "ticking timebomb" of a national shortage of teachers. It has largely solved that problem through a package of incentives and better pay. But the government is accused of being in denial about a mounting headteacher crisis, described in detail at the National Association of Head Teachers' annual conference in Harrogate at the weekend.
The NAHT - Britain's biggest headteachers' union with over 28,000 members working in primary and secondary schools - released a survey which showed more than one in four heads will consider quitting if their heavy workload does not fall. It also surveyed a fifth of local authorities and found 257 schools without permanent heads. If replicated across the country, this would mean up to half a million pupils in 1,200 schools without heads.
The NAHT's general secretary, Mick Brookes, says: "This is a crisis and it will only get worse unless the same efforts afforded to avert the shortage in teachers are now focused on the recruitment and retention of school leaders."
Brookes's Nottinghamshire primary school had to advertise twice to get the right candidate when he left to become general secretary last year. The struggle to attract a broad enough range of suitably qualified and experienced candidates, described here by Stephen Bates, reflects the national situation. Overall, the NAHT found, few posts advertised are attracting enough candidates to merit a long-list and, typically, around 20% of posts have to be re-advertised.
Is the government in denial? Not surprisingly, the Department for Education and Skills defends its record, saying that vacancy rates for headteachers had fallen significantly, thanks to the twin attractions of better pay and less red tape. Since 1997, the maximum headteachers can be paid has risen by more than 35% in real terms, from £56,676 to £93,297, with over £102,000 available in inner London from this September. But pay is not everything and ministers must address the real issue: why the job of headteacher has become increasingly unattractive.
Noel-Baker Academy (formerly Noel-Baker Community School) is a mixed comprehensivesecondary school in Alvaston, Derby, UK. The school takes students from the Alvaston, Boulton and Crewton areas of the city.
In September 2004 the school was awarded specialist school status as a Language College, by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). The impact of this award has been limited since 2004. Students were required to take on a language at GCSE, but this has proven unpopular and since been withdrawn. Recently, just before the school moved into new buildings in September 2012, the school changed its name to simply 'Noel-Baker School'.
The school was founded in 1960 as a Technical Grammar School, with pupils who passed the 11,12&13 plus and pupils from Allenton Technical School. It is named after Philip Noel-Baker, Olympic athlete, Derby SouthMP and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
During the 1970s, the school functioned well under the firm leadership of the headteacher, Glynn John (known affectionately by the pupils as 'Nunk').
However, during the early 1980s, after his retirement, the school declined. This was due largely to declining results. The school drastically turned around when a new headteacher, Mr Geoff Wynne stepped in, in the late 1980s. He took the school's GCSE results from 9% A-Cs in 1989 to 32% in 2002 when he retired. The schools GCSE results have continued to improve, moving to consistently above 30% for the key national measure of 5A*-C including English and Mathematics.
Dr. Paul Davies, of Swansea, then took the role of head master, his focus was on securing consistent exam results and behaviour. As Dr Paul Davies was a doctor of History he would sometimes cover History lessons in order to gain a first-hand insight into students opinions of the school. The success of his brief spell as headmaster was great, as student GCSE A*-C grades saw a gradual percentage increase, although were still quite low compared to other secondary schools in the Derby area. The school has since seen year-on-year development of GCSE results. Dr. Davies left the position of head master to join the Local Authority as Head of Secondary Learning following his departure Margaret Eley took the position of Acting Headteacher in the interim period.
In 2009 Mal Kerr, of Wirksworth, became Headteacher. Mal Kerr is of Irish descent and since his arrival has attempted to establish good relationships with students around the school. This has been noticed by his frequent attempts to meet and greet students.
The school had a satisfactory OFSTED report in 2005, this was built upon in 2008 when inspectors reported that Noel-Baker Community School and Language College was a 'good and improving school'. Since then the school was given a 'notice to improve' in its 2015 Ofsted inspection because of the unacceptable behaviour of the students. In 2014 the school GCSE results fell to 31%. At the same time the A Level results were the best that the school had ever achieved since re-introducing its sixth form. Unfortunately an October 2016 Ofsted inspection found the school totally inadequate in all aspects and in particular criticised the headteacher, the leadership team and the governors for the school's inadequacy. Mal Kerr, the Headteacher was quickly replaced and there were changes to the leadership team and governors. <Ofsted report published in November 2016>
As well as catering for 11- to 16-year-olds (years 7-11), the school also has a Sixth Form for 16- to 18-year-olds. However, there are a select few students who failed to achieve the desirable grades within years 12-13, so carry on their subjects for another year, thus creating a 'year 14'. The Sixth Form offers A-Levels and GNVQs in various subjects. There are currently 150 A-Level students. However, the number of students taking on year 12 studies is on a current incline as the school has begun to take on students to resit GCSE Maths and English studies. This has led to a higher than desirable intake of students which resulted in a new study suite being designed in the sixth form block. This was completed in late 2010.
The current head of sixth form is Mrs Donna Wilcox and the current sixth form student support manager is Mrs Janet Gostick. Together they hold responsibility for student admissions as well as helping students through daily life, such as UCAS and employment issues. However, the role of UCAS reference writing has been outsourced to other teachers to ensure that they are more personal. The success of this decision has greatly benefited the students.
The new school building construction has now finished. The new school has been placed on the old playing fields. The old building, which was exceeding 50 years old, has been demolished. The new Noel Baker construction had been prepared for the beginning of the school year in September 2012 at a cost of £34 million. The 1150 pupils of Noel Baker have combined with 90 pupils from St.Martin's special school - a school which operates to educate special needs students.
The construction of the new Noel-Baker has made it the most expensive new-build school in the area in comparison to Merrill College's construction which cost £15 million and Derby Moor whose refurbishment cost £19 million.
Notable former pupils
 Phillip Evans, Professor of Medical Education