Should Managers Tell Teachers What To Do? Part 2

December 9, 2015

I argued previously that heads are entitled to tell teaching staff what to do, but that there had to be limits to this. There are lines which I would like to draw which too often aren’t drawn in practice. There are instructions which are genuinely hard to follow.

I’ll start by looking at some of the worst instructions managers can give.

1) Instructions contradicted by other instructions. 

There is a really good example of this in one of Bigkid’s blogs (replying to the same speech by Michael Wilshaw which I mentioned in my previous post). It’s probably worth quoting at length:

If for example a Senior Management Team tell you that there is a strict no touching pupils policy and that anyone receiving a complaint from a pupil or parents for touching a pupil would be disciplined AND that the policy on dealing with fights was to separate the fighting pupils and wait for SLT to arrive…

I asked whether the no touching policy applied when breaking up fights. The manager just repeated the no touching policy and the policy on breaking up fights. I pointed out that my question had not been answered and was told it was all the answer I was going to get.

I then asked how it was possible to even get to the fight through the crowd of pupils surrounding the fight chanting “fight, fight, fight” without touching a pupil, much less separate the fighting pupils without touching them. I was told that other members of staff should be given the opportunity to ask questions and that my question would not be answered.

The first time there was a fight when I was on duty I rushed over to the outside of the circle of pupils chanting fight and tried to get through without touching any pupils. I tried appeals to their better nature, I tried threats, I tried bribing them with various things from the schools rewards policy. I tried everything I could think of short of touching a pupil. You see I already had a letter of warning in my file for not following instructions from our glorious leader, so I could not risk a further disciplinary. About 15 minutes later a member of SLT arrived, ignored the no touching policy completely and broke up the fight. Fortunately the kids were so terrible at fighting that nobody got seriously hurt.

I then got shouted at for following the school’s no touching policy rather than the contradictory policy on breaking up the fight. Before the introduction of the no touching policy I was one of a minority of members of staff that actually was willing to break up fights. Afterwards I didn’t break up a single fight until the no touching policy was abandoned.

But this is one example among many. Before now I have seen senior managers instruct teachers to be in classrooms waiting for students at the start of lessons and in the corridors directing students in. I’ve been told not to tolerate any misbehaviour and told not to use too many sanctions. I’ve been told to get plenty of rest and to be well-prepared for lessons. I’ve been told to spend less time marking classwork and to enforce new rules regarding the presentation of work. I have been told to send disruptive students  out and speak to them in the corridor and not to leave a class unsupervised. Workload demands in particular tend to create conflict as extra pieces of work are given to those already at full capacity without any any indication of what other pieces of work are to be abandoned. It is so common to be told to spend less time on something and to do it in a more time-consuming way that when I hear the words “this should save you time” uttered by a manager, I automatically expect it will take longer to do.

2) Completely idiotic instructions.

This is an instruction that is so absurd and the consequences so obviously harmful that you are likely to be blamed for following it, even by the person who gave it.

One Head of Department I worked for became concerned that when students truanted lessons our current policy of reporting it to form tutors didn’t seem to have any effect and we needed to set detentions instead. Another teacher pointed out that it was impossible to give a detention to somebody who wasn’t there. We could, of course, send detention slips on to the students via their tutors or post them home, but these often didn’t arrive and half the time it would then turn out that students were out of lessons for legitimate reasons. No doubt thinking on the spot, the Head of Department told us that after an absence we should wait until we next saw the student and ask them then why they had missed the lesson. Somebody asked if we still had to inform form tutors about missing students and we were told “no”. I tried to suggest that this would mean even less was done about truancy than now, but was told that I was creating difficulties.

Weeks later, I was asked by my Head of Department to explain why I had not done anything about a student who had been missing from my lessons for several weeks. Obviously I explained that we had been told to do nothing other than ask them where they had been next time we saw them and I hadn’t seen them yet. Inevitably, I was told that this was a ridiculous thing to do and I should never have done it regardless of whether I’d been told to do it. Now perhaps by following an obviously stupid instruction, I had made a mistake. Perhaps I should have just thought “this is idiotic, I’ll ignore it”. But with bad managers, if one refrains from doing what one is told every time it’s ridiculously stupid then one would be disobeying more often than obeying.

To be continued in part 3.


  1. After a fight broke out in one part of the school site, a headteacher asked me why I had not been on the spot to supervise students. I pointed out that I was on duty in another part of the building, as instructed. The HT’s response? “No excuses! You need to be in two places at once.” I kid you not: this really happened.

  2. On a long term supply stint, I was covering for a teacher who had a form group, as well as a full teaching timetable. I was expected to stay with my form until the next teacher arrived, whilst at the same time ensuring that the classroom I was teaching in was unlocked and I was waiting outside the room to greet the pupils. The form and the classroom were on different floors in different buildings. When I queried how this was possible, I was told by the deputy head that he was sure I’d “work something out” as the previous teacher had managed. This happened because year 7 stayed in the same room, whilst the teachers moved, but year 8 upwards changed rooms. No one on management could see a problem. The teacher I was covering for was off with workplace stress.

    • It’s never a good sign when they claim that the previous teacher had managed to do something, but all the evidence points to the previous teacher not having been able to cope with the job. It usually means: “the previous teacher never complained when I asked them to do impossible/impractical/daft things; they just tried their best and if there was a problem came to me in tears and said it was all their fault”.

  3. […] I was looking at types of instructions that should never be given. Continuing from where I left […]

  4. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

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