It’s still September and it’s still positive BLOG month for me. So, how do I respond to the Schools Week front page Michael Wilshaw quote?
“It is so much easier now to be a head.”
Firstly, I really enjoy reading Schools Week. It’s a great weekly read. It’s usually well written and it tries to mix it up. @MISS_MCINERNEY is respected for all the right reasons. But, that one statement got my hackles up. In context Wilshaw was talking about tackling poor performance. It is easier to do that now than in the 1980’s. But the whole article, as does other Wilshaw interviews smacks of an attitude of, “You know nothing… if only you did it my way.”
I want to point out a few observations here:
Poor performance in the 1980’s was not the same as it is today. Some teachers were drinking, smoking, utterly not monitored, teaching off the back of the progressive decades (without real assessment or research) and had powerful Union power a phone call away. I can see how tackling this would have been difficult. Times have certainly changed. People may have been many things in the past but teachers still wanted the best for their students within the culture of their era. I wonder what impact creating the right ethos (as we see it today) in the 1980’s would have had? Wilshaw seems to paint a picture that most education since before he became Chief Inspector was terrible due to bad teaching. Society does not reflect this? A lot of people did well off of education before he came to post. It goes hand in hand with his scarred, warzone language. I am not saying it would have been easy. But, we know so much more about leading with moral purpose and what effective learning and leadership looks like now. This does not make our jobs easier. It makes it harder. Head teachers are SO accountable today. In my 10 years of headship in 3 schools I have NEVER found it as challenging. The numbers of heads who started with me and are no longer here or heads is significant.
Today, poor performance is a micro managed, sometimes random set of principles applied to teachers in ever more confusing and measured ways. It is scrutinised externally, locally and nationally and usually applied without context. Being a head today is about adapting, changing, building, pushing, challenging, supporting, mentoring, disciplining and a rapidly lengthening list of other approaches. How this is easier is beyond me? If I walked in to a classroom and saw a teacher with their feet up, smoking a fag and reading The Sun it would be easy to address that. But walking in to a lesson where an NQT is struggling with a pocket of behaviour, has worked until the early morning planning a lesson that is going ‘off-piste’ and is trying to juggle the forty new objective he needs to know for Year 5 maths, a week before his Performance Management meeting… That is NOT easy to develop – to get right. That involves the head creating culture, support programmes, tiers of leadership and an ethos that is both supportive and aspirational.
If I was to work in a 1980’s school I would find it easy to make it a great school.I was a student in one and know what I needed and did not have back then… It was simple stuff – usually the basics. I would do what we know works. I would have created a team who understood their school and believed in their purpose.
This is why I have such issues with Mr Wilshaw. He is NOT in touch with this job. He is a combatant, a national educational heavy-weight – which makes him political. He is about getting better through running into bullets. He does not see the other ways leaders need to work. He most certainly does not see this as a challenge. A shame because if he did I think he would achieve even more in his role.
In 20 years time I too will talk about the role of the head teacher. Rather than talk about what is easy I hope I will contribute to making it easier by tackling what is hard.