Seven Habits of Highly Defective Headteachers

May 26, 2008



If you are the headteacher of a Battleground School the following types of behaviour will be normal for you:


1) The Strategic Euphemism. When interviewing suckers, sorry, candidates for teaching positions, and talking to parents and governors it becomes important to be able to avoid explaining what the school is actually like, but too blatant a lie is likely to be found out. The best way to avoid being caught out is to describe the phenomena of the school in certain glossy phrases:

“Our students aren’t afraid to say what they think” means “our students are rude to everybody”.

“Our students often have a difficult home-life” means “our parents are scum”

“We will expect you to cater for a variety of different learning styles” means “let the kids sit and chat in your lessons, it’s safest that way”.


2) The Bad Reference. There’s nothing like keeping hold of staff by stopping them from leaving. Unless you actively want shot of somebody and have a replacement lined up then you make sure you write a hatchet job. If you haven’t said anything critical of them to their face then it might take a year for them to realise what’s happening. Even if they do find out then they have very limited options to do anything about it. If you become known for your bad references then they might not even try to leave in the first place. The great thing is that in a bad school, you can paint any teacher as bad. They will have had problems with bad behaviour. (Bill Rogers, Mr Chips and Coach Carter combined would have problems with bad behaviour in your school). So make out it is their fault. If they don’t like you, and they probably don’t as they want to leave, then say they have trouble getting on with their colleagues.


3) The Fortress Of Solitude. Nothing reduces a headteacher’s authority more than being seen with children. If they are rude to your face in front of staff then the staff may realise you are not in control of the school. The solution to this problem is to create your own Fortress of Solitude, otherwise known as your office. If it is safely placed away from classrooms and you never leave it, except to go on Local Authority junkets, then you may never have to deal with a student directly at all. It can be embarrassing if you are showing somebody around the school and some of the students say “who the hell are you?” but it beats being called names by the little scrotes.


4) Delegating Responsibility. It is well known that great managers delegate. Great headteachers delegate so much that nobody quite knows what they do at all. If anyone asks what you are doing mumble something about paperwork and attending meetings. Some headteachers warn staff in briefings if they are going to be unavailable that day. This is a mistake as it just becomes noticeable that this makes no difference to anything that happens in the school. The rule of delegating is: If it’s important to you (i.e. things that you might be asked about by the local authority) give it to another member of SMT, if it’s not important (i.e. it’s to do with behaviour, or with the kids) give it to middle managers.


5) Blame People To Their Faces. Everything will go wrong eventually. The important thing is that it was in no way your fault. You need to invite every member of staff into your office at some point and blame them for something. Make it sound official, it looks good if you have some paperwork about it that you aren’t allowed to show them. If they apologise despite having done nothing wrong then you know that they will never stand up to you, and that you can blame them for other things in the future. If they do stand up to you, perhaps by leaving or going to their union rep then at least you have uncovered a troublemaker.


6) Blame People Behind Their Back. Some people are too indispensable, or too well-connected to be confronted directly. Therefore it becomes important not to talk to them directly about whatever you are blaming them for. The important thing is that you have an excuse for what’s going on. People can go for six months to a year thinking that they have done an excellent job, with only management incompetence to slow them down, and then later discover that they have been given no credit for anything they’ve done but have been held personally responsible for the failings of everyone above them in the hierachy. Discipline is the worst area for this. A teacher may ruthlessly enforce the rules despite a complete lack of support, only to discover that the people who were meant to be supporting them held them personally at fault for having to enforce the rules in the first place. Teachers often object to being told “we are not going to do our jobs in following up bad behaviour, because we think you are to blame for every bit of bad behaviour you tell us about” but if you say it behind their back then it could take months before they notice their referrals are being deliberately ignored (rather than just accidentally like everyone else’s).


7) Fake Concern about Staff Well-Being. Given that so many of the miseries of teaching result directly from bad management it is very easy for teachers to suspect that headteachers don’t care about them at all. The easiest way to deal with this complaint is to buy into initiatives that are meant to help with staff well-being. These consist of an INSET explaining that in future there will be greater concern about staff well-being, followed by a questionnaire that asks people how unhappy they are and why. This questionnaire is then ignored (usually by claiming not enough staff filled it in). Coincidentally all the answers that were filled in were from respondents who said they were very unhappy and you are the reason why. If that doesn’t convince staff that you care then offer free aromatherapy sessions after school.


  1. I remember the day a tutee (year 11) came to me, telling me that she saw the head outside at lunch, and went over to him, to ask him a question. He said, “I’m sorry, I don’t talk to students without an appointment. See the secreatary in the office.”

  2. […] we are effectively indentured. Many corrupt headteachers (including one for whom I have worked) withhold, or smear, references in order to retain staff. Such practice goes unchallenged by the DFE and even the teaching unions. […]

  3. […] also read this which speaks for […]

  4. […] 1 million hits, we can adapt this to look at what makes SLT in English schools effective – and defective. What follows has been collated by asking many colleagues in tough schools nationally about their […]

  5. These habits can be used to carry out independent inspections of schools on behalf of the Unions. Then the results published like OFSTED.

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