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Any Second Thoughts on Secondment?

Schoolsworks runs a secondment programme across the Trust enabling our teachers to get an insight into different schools, roles and experiences. Helen Wattam, Assistant Head at Medmerry Primary School, and currently working in the same role at River Beach Primary School, shares her thoughts on two years of secondment across two different schools.

If you asked me if I had any second thoughts on secondment my immediate answer is ‘none at all’. I have to say it has been an interesting couple of years, and not entirely due to the unexpected arrival of Covid and lockdown!

I’ve been a teacher at Medmerry Primary School since September 2000, working from Early Years up to Year 6. After we converted to an academy and joined Schoolsworks, I had the opportunity for a ‘fireside chat’ with the Trust’s CEO Chris Seaton, which prompted a reflection of my time at Medmerry as well as considering future career aspirations. And so, the opportunity for secondment seemed to be a ‘no-brainer’ – risk free (there was no daunting formal interview process) and the knowledge that my job at Medmerry was assured. My goal was to extend my pedagogy as a teacher, and broaden my horizons as a member of SLT, by working in a school that offered a totally new experience.

My initial secondment was at Rustington Community Primary. It’s always a bit disconcerting arriving somewhere new with so many unfamiliar faces, particularly when you are used to being a well-established familiar face but the whole team was fortunately a friendly bunch! Even so, it seemed rather strange to be asking ‘Where’s the A3 paper kept?’ ‘How long is lunch break?’ and ‘When’s home time?’  In my opinion, the general nature of teachers is one of patience and understanding, and this seemed especially true at Rustington. I came away with a feeling that ‘team’ is the most important structure, no matter what the size of the school, and that progress and success is a definite product of teamwork. The onset of lockdown in March 2020, and the ensuing organisation, was a testament to teamwork. There was a sense of camaraderie, and ‘pulling together’ like some sort of war effort. In actual fact, my role changed during this time as I was on rota as the one member of SLT in school for the week. It gave me an insight (however small) into the more organisational elements of school life, including the opportunity to learn how to buzz someone in at the school gates!

The tricky thing with secondment (and the logistical challenge for dealing with the requests) is that I was asked quite early on in the school year, around October half-term, to decide whether I wanted to consider a second year. I have to admit to still feeling rather shell-shocked at this time, and so opted to return to the safety and comfort of the familiar at Medmerry. But during a chat with Cathy Williams, our Director of Teaching and Learning, the option for a second year at River Beach arose. I’d come across Dave Ayres when he ran the NPQSL course for Schoolsworks and had him rated as ‘a decent bloke’ so the opportunity to work with him for a year was an interesting one (although I wasn’t fully prepared for his impersonation of Shakin’ Stevens in the RB Christmas video!). In the past year, working with Dave and the team at River Beach, I’ve been able to be more involved with strategic planning, monitoring and appraisal across the school which has given me another valuable glimpse into leadership.

Looking back over the last two years I’ve been able to work alongside so many people with so many different strengths. This has allowed me to cherry pick ideas and strategies that are meaningful to me, and which I know I can take back to Medmerry to best effect. Writing this reflection on my secondment has been almost like having a fireside chat with myself, giving me the opportunity to look back on my own personal growth through this experience, and how the broadening of horizons can cause the strengthening of one’s self. So if you’re wondering ‘Should I?’ when it comes to considering a secondment, then I would say…‘Definitely’.