The Life Beyond…

Hilary Cooper (3)Deciding when to leave a career you love and move on is quite a tricky action to take. You don’t want to go too soon and feel that you haven’t completed what you set out to do and you don’t want to hang on until people are saying “Is she still there?” in a tone of amazement and exasperation. More importantly, in the current climate, you don’t want to become one of the “missing”. You know, those heads who are here today and gone tomorrow following an unfortunate Ofsted. What an awful way to end so many years of dedication to education. No one deserves to be treated with such disrespect and I cannot even begin to imagine what it feels like to be summarily despatched to the education scrap heap.

Anyway I was determined, in the way only a control freak can be, to take action in my own time and way. Recently I heard a really good statement about how to manage this fairly big change: “Don’t just think about what you are retiring from but rather concentrate on what you are retiring to”.

Well for me I don’t like the word retirement and much prefer to view it as seeking new opportunities. I was definitely aiming to leave in a gap between Ofsted inspections while the school was definitely graded “Good” and not hanging round for a time when I might be told otherwise so my decision was straightforward and made far earlier than most people realised.

So what of the the life beyond? Well it is, as almost all people who have given up the day job will agree, fantastic and I have no idea how I managed to fit in at least 50 hours a week of work!

Of course as with so many others I have started off with some serious travelling some of which, Patagonia, can only sensibly done in term time, some, skiing, done to enjoy the cheaper prices and smaller lift queues, and some, Australia, just to get better weather than visiting in our school summer holidays.

But I did have some other aims which mostly link to education. You can take the girl out of education but you can’t take education out of the girl and I am keen to use the experience I have gained in the last 38 years.

I used to say categorically I would never be a School Governor: I mean why would you? So here I am Governor at two schools in North Tyneside, one of which is about to be an academy. My realization came when I saw how much I needed a person who could talk education on the Governing Body at the school where I was head. We had such great lay Governors who believed totally in me and the school however, faced with any type of inspector, they would crumble and talk passionately but anecdotally about the school. Having the confidence to talk sharply about data, progress and performance was just too scary for them.  Being a governor is such a different role and takes you straight to the heart of the school.

An opportunity I didn’t expect came from First Class Supply who are only down the road from my home and so very handy. I am starting to do some work for them including interviewing the people who would like to go on their books. I am amazed and impressed with the effort make to send out only good staff. Probably I didn’t ever think about that aspect when I was in school in fact probably I thought that agencies just take on anyone. Not this one! In fact they are offering such a wide range of support and CPD it has been a revelation

The hardest thing on my list is trying to set up a bit of a business about Developing Educational Visits. I believe absolutely that not enough is done to help staff, especially new staff , to risk assess and lead trips safely and to do really exciting things. But believing this and getting you to believe it are two different things. When you are in school with strong office staff fielding calls and emails it is great, when you are outside trying to get in it all becomes much tougher. But I have done a few sessions which have been well received and led a few residential visits for Key Stage 2 so perhaps this just requires patience and a drip, drip approach.

So would I recommend this. Well it is just right for me and as I walk along the beach at 8.0’clock in the morning, calling in at St Mary’s Island to watch the seals and consider which of my very long list of possibilities I had better actually complete today I can hardly remember the life before. I wouldn’t personally have been able to cope if I hadn’t had lots of things to retire to but then I am a control freak.


Hilary Cooper, former Head Teacher at Barnes Junior School, Sunderland



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