1. Advice for Headteachers: teach.

14 Mar

I have given this article a number, indicating that my advice might multiply into a  series of unwanted naggings. Most people in power feign gratitude at helpful hints and will certainly ignore them unless a. The offerings comes from those who are even more powerful, b. Ofsted tell them, specifically, how to buck their ideas up and c. The advice comes from those whom they trust. I hope that I have been in this last category and I offer these thoughts as a kindly, critical stranger.

Teach. Yes, I mean get into the classroom and spend some of your busy week doing what you were trained for. Around 70% of secondary heads don’t teach at all. Increasingly they style themselves as executives, with iPhones strapped to their belts, secretaries who are called PAs, digital diaries filled with conferences or meetings with schools with which they are federalised to ‘share good practice’ or pool expertise or rationalise budgets. These meetings are, of course, chummy hot air balloons with lots of gas to propel the Heads (and their acolytes on the leadership group) high into the sky – but after tea and biccies they come to ground and little has been done to aid any of the children back at the ranch.

Primary Heads teach rather more but, in larger primaries, they too find it an inconvenience. Strange to say that the number of Heads who teach in private schools – about 50% – is greater. I wonder why, with all that cash sloshing around on Toby and Jemima’s riding lessons and tiny GCSE Maths sets, what is it that persuades the highly paid beak to dabble with a little 6th form Ancient History? Contact – that’s the thing. Getting to know a few pupils who then spread the word – he/she is a good egg. Being a brilliant teacher doesn’t matter – know your stuff, of course – and good preparation with an aversion to missing too many sessions (for conferences or ‘important’ meetings) are vital.

A few lessons a week not only gives you a profile with the students but also with colleagues. You may be a little de-skilled compared with the bright young things who are busting their guts on a full timetable but you can claim to line up alongside them, have coffee with them and complain about the behaviour of 4B; show them that you’re on their side. Parents like it too. At Parents’ Evening you don’t have to feel like a spare part smiling hopelessly into the middle distance as droves of them ignore you, keen to find out from the real teachers how their offspring are progressing. No – you can be sat at your own teacher-table with mark book at hand and genial knowingness about the aforementioned characters in 4B.

I have worked for several Heads all of whom taught. They had in common an aversion to those things which took them away, too often, from base camp. They each made a profit and loss calculation on how their time was spent and at the end of the year the balance sheet showed healthy assets in the home time-bank. Nor were these heads all brilliant teachers but they were given a greater leeway by their charges because they showed a liking (and command) for their subject and a strong desire to know, just a few children through teaching. One of these leaders confided that she wouldn’t know quite how to use her working hours profitably if she didn’t teach a fair load. This Head was a grafter and rarely begrudged any extra time spent in the cause of her school.

Good heads also push themselves to ‘go to things’: sports matches, drama productions, art shows, visit summer camps, go on summer camps, concerts, trips educational and social…this puts them in good odour with staff, parents, pupils of course but they, doubtless find these experiences elevating – the buzz from being there.

The word on the street is that leadership is vital in any enterprise. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes – and they can lead, we are told from the front, rear or side. They can top-down or bottom-up; be desk bound or out and about; wear a bleep to scurry out of questionable break-out sessions (heads who wears a bleep are shouting: look how important  I am because anything that goes wrong back at base needs me to be alerted to sort things out) .They  delegate like mad to assistant headteachers  many of whom are in their twenties and have advanced too quickly so as to keep the staff turnover from melt-down. This denies the poor sods the chance to fine-tune their teaching skills because, having been made Heads of Year two years after qualifying, have continued upward so they now teach as little as the Head and attend as many conferences.  They too are too busy to run after-school clubs – or do they just convince themselves that they are too important?

So one type of executive breeds another and Ofsted’s obsession with a data-driven agenda means that the nouveau headteacher is less likely than ever to know the children in his/her school, never mind teach them.

For the school’s sake, for the children’s sakes, for your sakes – teach, just a bit. You know it makes sense.

2 Responses to “1. Advice for Headteachers: teach.”

  1. ENSEMBLE DIANA-RIDDICK March 14, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    As always spot on! Love DianaX


    • Evelyn April 3, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

      Would like to replace either of the “monstrous Mikes” with you, but suspect that you couldn’t be coerced out of a well-earned retirement in any case. Damn!

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