When I began teaching, Headship was like the end of a rainbow..out of reach. Partly because I had only begun teaching, any thoughts towards becoming a Head would have been very odd considering I wasnt quite sure what was higher: a 2C or a 2A? (I actually had to ring my final school, placement mentor to find out). No, if at that stage in my career I had designs on Headship it would have been very worrying and I probably should have left the world of education there and then .
Another reason however as to why Headship appeared to be an almost mythological state was because of the Head Teachers that were around. In my mind the Head Teachers back then were calossal. Mighty beasts that not only led their school but were the school. I don’t want to use the word “Maverick”but these were big personalities who seemed untouchable. It was these men and women whose schools were like kingdoms. When you heard about what this or that Head was doing in his or her school it was like listening to myths from another land. They were at once, to me, all knowing about education but only in their particular domain. I always felt that it would be impossible to become one of them…unless I killed a lion or wrestled a bear or bit the head off a snake in some weird local authority ritual.
I later worked with one of these leaders at close hand and I was so relieved that they weren’t a disappointment. It was a tough school in a socio-economically depressed part of the city and floor standards were pretty much your wildest dreams. (Don’t confuse that with staff low expectations however, as a pgce student once made the mistake of actually saying during a staff meeting.) This Head was, to my mind, the only possible person who could lead that school.
Don’t get me wrong, there were some areas of weakness:
1. Being able to actually teach (if he was taking your class you would come back at break to find that he had barely taken the register so preoccupied with trying to make the class laugh)
2. Staff communication at times was not brilliant; you found out, for example, what year group you were teaching next year via letter in your pigeon hole after lunch on the last day… he would have left for the holidays at noon.
3. Zero respect for financial responsibility…each year came the depressing and soul destroying moment of ‘managing change’ which left many staff feeling devalued.
4. Writing a SEF that was a complete (although at times amusing) work of fiction.
But there were many, many, many things that cause those weaknesses to evaporate from my mind when I think about his overall contribution to that school community. He loomed so large on the psyche of the community and committed so much of his life to bringing the community together and unifying them that he remains a significant influence on my own headship.
I say that even though I believe his breed of Head Teacher is now extinct. For better or for worse schools are no longer led by Kings or Queens trying to protect their castle from the dragons that try to burn them down. (Wow, reading this back makes me think I should hold back on Game of thrones). These Heads have died out as Headship became more… professional?
I don’t for one minute say that to try and take any level of professionalism away from the Heads of yesteryear… but the job itself has changed. For example:
I can’t employ, without interview, parents from the playground because they seem nice. I can’t have staff favourites (publicly) and offer them internal promotions. I can’t create an SDP priority based upon a personal indulgence. l can’t ignore what my local schools are doing or ignore their achievements over mine.
Headship has become more transparently accountable and operating as a lone saviour is impossible. When people reminise about the “freedoms” of teaching back then (“I used to decide what my afternoon lessons would be whilst shaving”) or Headship (“Bugger the SIP, I Know what we’re doing”) l occasionally feel, not Sad, but a nostalgic longing for what I may have missed… a golden age? A time of freedoms and of a “my way or the highway” and assurity that you were right without question.
I mean will I inspire a generation of future Heads? Will they write a blog about me saying:
1. By God he could write a SEF that cut to the chase.
2. He Knew Raise like the back of his hand.
3. I’ll say this for him, he always interviewed if there was a vacancy.
4. The man could budget reasonably well.. no one lost their job but we never managed to equip a fully working ICT suite.
I’m certain they won’t. Even so, I hope I can be the Head for the community that I saw in that inner city school years ago. The cut corners, I can do without and the independence. But the total commitment to a school is what drives me, and the changes that have come with the evolution of school improvement are, by me, welcomed. I embrace the partnerships we are creating with local schools in the real world and professional colleagues in the virtual world of twitter. I don’t want to be alone in this very public dashboard of educational judgements. We may not be living in a golden age of education and school leadership may have become more corporate and professionally minded but I wouldn’t necessarily change that.
Where there are constraints, people will find freedoms through creativity.
When one school “fails” it will succeed through systems and partnerships.
Professionalism and rigid accountability are borne from a true desire to raise standards for all pupils.
As a school Leader I truly feel that we are tantalisingly close to forging education’s new golden age.
A great blog – many thanks! My early memories of heads I worked for are very similar to yours. The job has changed and we have lost so many good people along the way. They may not be good at RO but they were real characters! Even 10 years ago when I became a HT there were lots of characters – people I admired. They were not very corporate or image-obsessed but they were good people.
Despite huge advances I do feel we have lost something.