Posts Tagged ‘Headteachers’


Heroes of SMT

May 31, 2008

In my experience most schools have one or two competent members of SMT. In a good school this is the Head and the Deputy Head. In a bad school it will be the Assistant Head in charge of PSHE and the Assistant Head responsible for The Sixth Form.

There are a few things that make a good member of SMT:

1) They walk the talk. They enforce the rules they expect you to enforce. They teach the way they expect you to teach. They don’t mind you observing their lessons. They don’t ignore trouble in the corridors, hide in their offices or ignore students who aren’t obeying rules concerning uniform or behaviour around school.

2) They are honest. They keep their promises. If they say they will support you in a lesson then they are there. If they say they will sort something they will sort it. If they don’t know the answer to a question they will tell you and get back to you. If they can’t get something done they say, instead of failing to do it and looking for somebody else to blame. They don’t use euphemisms, if a kid is out of order they will say so. If a job they give you is difficult they will tell you that. If a school is difficult they will tell you that, with no weasel words about how it will be better once you “build relationships”.

3) They are on the teachers’ side. They remember what it is like to teach. They don’t waste time trying to see teachers’ problems from “the other side”, whether that’s the students or management. They have a sincere conversation with the teacher about what can be done. Most importantly of all they are like this with parents. In their book a parent who is unsatisfied with the school needs to find a new school. There are no “personality clashes” and no undermining of staff.

4) They’ll get the kid. If you report a disciplinary incident they deal with it without trying to refer it elsewhere or to pretend it isn’t serious. They assume that if you have gone to them it is because it is serious, and because nobody else will deal with it.

5) They take responsibility. If they are there, then they are in charge. This is particularly important for things like supervising the canteen, or children on sportsday or a trip. There is no need to ask them for help in such a situation, they are looking for the problems and dealing with them.

Few schools have nobody like this, although some schools have so few that they end up overworked. What is rare is the situation where such a person is the headteacher. I have only encountered this briefly, but it is a joy. In particular there are some other qualities that the competent headteacher has:

1) They lead. Almost everything they do is their own idea, and they don’t care for consultation or debate. They will also make it clear what they want or expect at all times. You never have to ask what they want as they have already made it clear. Their aims are clear and non-negotiable.

2) They look for trouble. You find them in the corridors at lesson change over. They ask what the matter is if you look stressed. They intervene in as many incidents as possible, particularly if awkward parents are involved. They will take on new projects if they are likely to make a difference. They are never satisfied with the status quo even when accepting it would make their life easier in the short term.

3) They fight The Powers That Be. They will fight the Local Authority. They will ignore targets for exclusion. They will not ask what other schools are doing before taking on a new idea. They will pick a fight with anybody that interferes, and will rely on the school’s exam relults to let them get away with it. Not only that, but they do get those results. As long as they are in place the school’s results keep going up.

There’s a naïve idea that the best headteachers are the nicest ones. While I know that an evil backstabbing swine makes a poor head, a weak one is even worse. The best headteachers are ruthless bastards, but they are on your side and they are ruthless with dealing with problems, rather than in covering them up. We owe them a lot. I’d like to buy a drink for all the good secondary headteachers in England. (After all I’d probably get change from a tenner).


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.

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