Nicola Walters

Headteacher, Handsworth Wood Girls' Academy

What is your present role & school?

I'm the Headteacher of Handsworth Wood Girls’ Academy in Handsworth, Birmingham, an 11 – 18 comprehensive academy. Our student intake is very diverse, of which we are very proud and which reflects our local community. Our ethos is based upon mutual respect for each other, and for the students to be proud of themselves as individuals, and to aspire to achieve success in all that they do during their time here.  We believe in educating the whole child with a curriculum suited to their needs, high quality teaching and learning, comprehensive careers education and guidance and a wide range of enrichment activities.

I started my career in Norfolk teaching French and German in 1983 in a 12 – 16 school on the coast for two years and then in an 11 – 16 school in a small rural town before moving back to the West Midlands in 1988 to teach in Sandwell. I took up a post in an 11 – 18 school initially as a main scale teacher, but was able to gain promotion very quickly. I spent 22 years in that school, but had a variety of roles: Head of French, Assistant Head of Department, Assistant Head of Year, Head of MFL, Assistant Headteacher with responsibility for CPD and Deputy Headteacher with responsibility for Staffing and the SSAT’s Leading Edge programme. I was also able to gain experience in curriculum and timetabling, behaviour management, finance, health and safety and a new build project during my deputy headship, and also completed two secondments in other schools in Sandwell to support them in improving their outcomes for students. I became a Headteacher in September 2010 in an all-girls comprehensive school which is very diverse in terms of ethnicity, religion and language. Two significant achievements are our conversion to academy status in November 2012 and two Ofsted inspections: Good in January 2011 and Outstanding in May 2014. I am also chair of governors of an alternative provision free school, which opened in September 2013 and became an Ofsted Inspector in 2015 which I have found extremely interesting.

What two professional achievements are you most proud of?

1. Gaining my headship in 2010

2. Achieving Outstanding in 2014

What four words best describe your approach to leadership?

Collaborative; Determined; Informed; Inclusive

What have you learned about effective leadership most recently?

  • Have clear aims, which are communicated and shared with all stakeholders.
  • Take people with you by delegating appropriately, trusting them to do their job and liaising frequently so that you know what is going on.
  • Make your decisions based on what is best for the students.
  • Use emotional intelligence in managing staff, students and parents.
  • Patience, kindness, honesty and integrity.
  • Never shy away from difficult conversations, as the problem will simply continue.
  • You need to be brave, courageous and determined, but also be humble at times.
  • Ensure you have a balance in your life between work and home

What three pieces of advice would you give to a new headteacher colleague?

1. Consistently base all that you think and do on the best interests of your students.

2. Listen.

3. Distribute leadership throughout the school and trust people to do their jobs, but monitor effectively.

Who have been your influential mentors/ role models?

Firstly my parents gave me many opportunities to learn about the world, its geography, history, culture and people as well as developing interests to take into adulthood. Secondly, a previous headteacher, Dame Enid Bibby DBE, with whom I worked for initially as head of MFL, then assistant headteacher and finally deputy headteacher. She recognised in me that I had the competencies and ability to become a headteacher, and therefore encouraged and supported me to realise this through coaching, relevant professional development and opportunities to experience areas of senior leadership outside of my job description.   

What do you view as the most pressing issues / challenges for girls and young women in our schools currently? 

  • Ensuring that in our society equality between the sexes does actually mean equality in practice: at home, in the work place, and in society generally.
  • Raising aspirations is key to overcoming these barriers, supported by opportunities for girls and women to realise their goals in life, starting with a good education where girls have opportunities outside the classroom to develop their characters and interests as well as success in academic study.
  • Built into this, girls and women must have access to high quality advice, guidance and support so that they can be aware of the opportunities that on offer, and work towards their goals successfully.
  • Building their confidence to strive for success and roles of responsibility is also crucial so that they are never deterred at the first hurdle.
  • Changing mind-sets in society so that girls’ and women’s issues are taken seriously and resolved.

Do you have any books that have been important to you professionally that you would recommend for our leadership library? 

I like to read articles by Sir Ken Robinson and Andy Hargreaves which usually provide some very interesting ideas on teaching, learning and leadership.