mav·er·ick (măv′ər-ĭk, măv′rĭk)
1. A person who shows independence of thought and action, especially by refusing to adhere to the policies of a group to which he or she belongs.
2. An unbranded range animal, especially a calf that has become separated from its mother,traditionally considered the property of the first person who brands it.
Michael Wilshaw has not retired yet. There is no doubt he feels that he is a maverick and as much as I will regret this sentence I think we will miss him when he’s gone. He is a mixture of cliches and controversy in a grey suit, with an unforgiving stare. I was once in a lift with him, I wish I had introduced myself and found out that he was in fact a charming, funny and warm man. At times his speeches feel like staring up in to the barrel of a .44 Magnum, the unspoken message being, “Go ahead punk, make my day!”. I have no doubts that this is his preferred model for headship.
It must be great being the Chief Inspector of Ofsted. You get to say all sorts of stuff about education and none of it really needs to make sense to people who actually still work in schools. You can reminisce about the golden days of headship when it was so much tougher than today and hark on about what education needs without actually doing anything concrete to help make it better. Surely this is the perfect job. Say stuff and get paid for it.
Let’s start with a ‘hint of menace’. All ‘great’ teachers need it according to Mr W. Is this like a whiff of authority? I usually associate menace with Joe Pesci or Darth Vader. Menace is a person likely to cause harm, a threat or danger. Personally, I am doing my utmost to keep these people away from children and my school. Maybe teacher training should have a module called, ‘Teach it like Walken’ (5 things Christopher Walken would do if he had your tricky Year 5 class).
“I don’t need to be made to look evil. I can do that on my own.” – Discuss!
And then he goes and says some sensible stuff about teaching being rooted in reality and how teachers need to put students first, (rather than social media – *whistles). Though I keep thinking how is the ‘maverick’ sound-bite that different to a smug tweet? It gets attention. It seems to have meaning but explore it and it has no real substance and feels a little cheap.
It was the Maverick line that interested me most – doing the right thing and not doing the expected thing. The irony of this coming from the Chief Inspector of Ofsted was not lost on me. I immediately thought I would write a Book entitled, The Non Conformists Ofsted Inspection Handbook. The opening line would be:
When Ofsted arrive the ‘maverick head’ would immediately do something non conformist:
Hand them a whiskey,
Hide beneath painted plastic camouflaged trees (moving when they are not looking),
Pretend you don’t speak English,
Pretend they are invisible and you can’t hear them,
Stick pencils up your nose
This book explores the infinite potential of the maverick head!
Chapter 1: Naked Leadership…
In truth I really wish I could write this book! We could explore the type of mavericks that would run a school more effectively. We could start with the Ron Burgundy approach and move on to lessons learned from the Fawlty Towers Academy. The front cover would show a headteachers bare backside about to be branded with a molten Ofsted poker. I think what Mr W was getting at is there is a very fine line between madness and school leadership, (WOOF!).
I have worked for some Maverick heads. My memories of them are very mixed. None of them are in headship any more. Two of them HAD to leave headship. They had incredible auras around them but I would question which were more important – what they did for the children or what was happening to their careers? They were eventually taken ‘out for lunch’ (this is educations equivalent to gangsters ‘sleeping with the fishes’) with the local authority and never returned. If someone told me I was a maverick I’d have a panic attack. Headship needs committed, consistent, loving and careful people – not as sexy, not as Hollywood, as ‘maverick’ I know but if I was in a position of authority that would be my line. We need head teachers who fight for children, who fight for their right to the very best we can provide. This will often happen beneath the radar… It is happening in schools up and down the country every day right now. People championing children and making their lives better. Children don’t need some Back to the Future Doc Brown character flitting from genius to calamity in charge of their future. They need moral, strong and probably rather boring people standing up for them. It is a line I have been pushing for a little while now. They need ordinary people as their head teachers, not super heroes, not film stars, not super heads or world class leaders. Just skilled, caring and committed leaders of their school who are open to making things better. They don’t need mavericks they just need leaders who understand teaching. We don’t need to create an aura around us just so we can pretend that we care more or have greater ambitions for our pupils than the next head teacher.
I really hope the next chief inspector of Ofsted can see through the hype and walk with many of us down the corridors of our schools. They really don’t need to grab the headlines by throwing grenades full of ‘pub talk controversy’ into the media spotlight – they need to build on the reality that has been coming from other areas of Ofsted for some time now. They need to listen and respond to the profession rather than try to batter and influence it.
Mr Wilshaw may be ‘bigger than life’ but we need a real person at the helm of Ofsted. Someone that ‘real’ leaders can associate with and build links to. We need someone who does not pretend to be more than they really are.
As Dirty Harry would say, “A man’s got to know his limitations”, even when aiming for the stars.