How I went from Tony Blair’s adviser to free school head

Peter Hyman chronicles the first year of School 21, from the panic of opening day to the formation of rules by the pupils themselves, a week blighted by power cuts – and an exultant end of term. This is an extract from the Guardian

I am on my hands and knees in what passes for our playground. It is Sunday evening and tomorrow at 8.30 our first ever children will enter the school. The contractors who promised to complete the installation of our temporary classrooms and clean up, are nowhere to be seen. I am alone. I should feel excitement that 18 months of relentless planning is about to become a reality; that I am embarking on my first year of headship. Instead I am close to panic.

We have discovered in the last 24 hours that our phone lines will not be working in time. The fire alarm system is at best patchy. Outside pipework is not cased in, so students could easily destroy it. There is no gas in the science lab. Litter covers the entrance and pathway to the school. Squatters in the building next to our entrance are coming in and out at all times of day and night. There is a constant stench of urine – possibly from the squatters, more likely from our “specialist temporary building” contractors (who allowed their portable loos to overflow so that excrement swamped the playground and then filled bottles with urine and threw them over the fence). The council bins outside are overflowing. The sign for the front gate saying “School 21” has not been attached, so how will students find our temporary entrance? Perhaps the most serious immediate risk to student life-chances is that the metal hoarding around our playground will blow over in the wind and crush someone.

Surely it’s impossible to open the school on time tomorrow?

I have a list of our 258 pre-opening items printed out in front of me, ranging from first aid to fire marshals, catering to staff contracts, statutory policies on grievances, bullying, whistle-blowing, parental complaints, ICT plans for hardware and software, curriculum maps, behaviour systems and timetable. But I’m starting with the job that I can do something about right now – scrabbling around on the floor, picking up three-inch nails and cigarette butts so that the new four-year-olds will have somewhere safe to play at break.

I never imagined it would be quite like this. I knew it would be tough; I was prepared to work all hours. But I didn’t realise the extent to which we’d be left, as a small team, to sort out everything, even many of the large items that came under the remit of the government’s technical advisers. We started with just three people, three people who wanted to change the way we did education. We had no financial backer and were not part of an education chain or religious group. Our goal: to open a 4-to-18 mixed school with 75 children in each year group, but starting with 150 children: 75 in three reception classes and 75 in year 7. Then each year the school would build up 150 children at a time…

More at:  How I went from Tony Blair’s adviser to free school head

Have you had experience launching a new school? Or are you in the process of doing so now? If so, what have been the hardest aspects and what would you do differently if you could do it over? Please share in the comments or on twitter… 

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Categories: Free Schools.


  1. gingerdisco99

    SchoolsImprove presumably you resigned Blair job, trained/got job as teacher and worked your way up to Head. Anywhere near?

  2. penguin_charl

    gingerdisco99 SchoolsImprove Is it me, or does it not really tell us how we went from being Blair’s adviser to Free School head?

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