I remember the days when the local paper would run a 4 page pull out advertising feature on private schools in the area. You could peruse which one had photos showing the most wholesome looking 10-year-old violin players or the happiest looking 13 year olds in boaters smiling out at you. And with each ad was the date of their open day. “Give us a few thousand every term and we will protect your offspring from having to mix with pupils who didn’t have their mild dyslexia certified by a private consultant.” was the unspoken deal.
You could easily understand why St Blazer-on-the-Wold prep school had to advertise; they were a business, they needed more bums on seats, they weren’t protected by the cushion of an LEA. It was business folks. What else did you expect?
But slowly and surely with the cushion withdrawn and Head Teachers wanting to prove themselves both on the OFSTED report as well as with numbers on roll, more and more emphasis is being put on state schools and their marketing arm “Best results ever” hangs the banner over the reception block at the front of school”. The Deputy head is desperately trying to contact the picture editor on the erstwhile local rag. He wants to ensure the picture that goes into the GCSE exam result article isn’t the one that includes the boy who dyed his hair purple. Local demographics are closely studied to see how future numbers might be rising or, heaven forbid, falling.
While inside school meetings, the Head is talking about our “competitor” schools and cursing that the comprehensive on the edge of town has managed to lift up its pass rate to within a few percentage points of his own. He stands up in front of the staff and talks about key marginals, before having to explain to confused teachers this is the new term for C/D borderlines. “Aren’t we supposed to be moving away from focusing on such a niche group?” asks the Head of Science. “If bloody New Suburbs Academy can get 68%, then so can we. And if we don’t push the D kids then parents will choose the other school, not us and all your jobs will be on the line.”
So, once more, the majority of pupils are ignored in favour of whole school figures. And extra cash is spent on flashier display cabinets, lighting and paintwork in reception, rather than on anything for a classroom. Two of the smoother skinned and slimmer y10 female pupils are called out of lessons when the professional photographer comes round (“Do you play the viola? No? Ah well could you hold one anyway and stand under that chestnut tree while I take the shots? There’s a dear”) And the local paper gleefully rubs its hands as more of the academy budget is siphoned off to pay for a half page spread in the local state schools 4 page pull out advertising feature.
I have never been, nor do I desire to be a Headteacher. There are so many attributes that you need for this job that I have either not got, nor do I want to learn. I couldn’t take the angry parents, badly behaved pupils and grumpy staff all day long. All those meetings. The responsibility. The serious face you have to wear most of the working day. The job title is wrong – you are not a Head Teacher, because you don’t teach anymore. what’s the point of getting into education and then not being in the classroom?
But I have worked under a few headteachers over my career so far and I know what doesn’t work. So what I offer here is the opposite of that. I have learnt from their mistakes. Unfortunately I am still learning from them.
- All that pressure you are under from OFSTED? Filter out as much of it as you can, so that you and your SLT can deal with it. Don’t tell your staff, how they should be doing something BECAUSE OFSTED WILL WANT IT. That is not why any of your teachers teach. It will piss them off.
- That 3 day a year compassionate leave? Don’t let them know you count up how many are being taken. I can count on 2 fingers all the staff I know who have taken advantage of compassionate leave. If you give someone the time off because their family life demands it, you will be paid back 10 fold over the rest of the tenure at your school
- After school meetings and parents evenings? Don’t scrimp on the biscuits and tea. What percentage of the school’s annual budget would it cost to provide these necessities once a week to all staff?
- Your union reps are a huge resource. Give them 30 mins a week off timetable, schedule a regular meeting and I promise you staff/HT communication will improve dramatically
- The staff room at lunch and break times? stay out – apart from end of term farewells and the like. Its not that staff don’t like you, its that they need to unwind and have a good moan and they cannot do that if you pop your head around the door to see someone a few times a week.
- Dont allow your new SLT to start a new strategy until the previous good idea is settled in. Change is good but only if you allow the schemes to have a proper effect.
- Now being a head teacher is an often thankless task, but don’t forget what it is like being a teacher. Don’t begin to believe that their job is easy compared to yours, don’t forget how draining a full day in the classroom in front of 30 of the demanding blighters is, don’t forget how much teachers want to get it perfectly right each lesson BUT NEVER DO SO, don’t forget about the non existence of breathing space in your day and the lack of control you have over when you can STEP OFF THE HURTLING HAMSTER WHEEL to make a cup of tea or go to the loo, but most of all don’t forget how no one tells a teacher what a good job they are doing, how no pupil will leave a classroom and say “thank you, I really learnt well in your class Miss”, how no parent will ever ring up just to say how pleased they are with the progress their child is making in your class, how OFSTED only want to find fault and how even the best teachers with a great lesson plan can find it all falling about around their ears for no fathomable reason. And as a result of all this not forgetting, take time in your day to support, praise and thank your teachers for the effort and sacrifice they are making every day in your school to find better and better ways for their pupils to learn. For if you don’t say well done chances are no one else will. And if you do say well done it will mean so much and your teacher will go home with a smile on their face and come in the next day and even better teacher. That 30 seconds of praise will be the best investment in school improvement you make all year.
And you will notice that I didn’t use the adjective “outstanding” in the title as that word has been so discredited in UK education now