‘I was just saying to your colleague, the referee has got me the sack, thank him ever so much for that, won’t you?’

England’s Graham Taylor to a linesman

School leadership is under fire. I have read a ‘horde of tweets’ recently that are critical of it. Everyone is a referee nowadays. Ironically, I have written a blog for @tes this week that puts the blame for the current ‘bleak’ education climate firmly at the doorstep of the head teacher. Never has the mantle of the leader been more fragile or unstable.

I am a season ticket holder (with my 10 year old son) at Bristol City. A season that started full of hope has disintegrated in to one of looming relegation. The ground is a toxic place to be and my son, who could not wait for the games, is now making excuses not to go. He gets upset when he hears the barrage of abuse aimed at the very small and lonely figure of Lee Johnson, the Bristol City manager, as he stands on the touchline in the rain. He can not understand how anyone can feel such rage and hate towards someone who only wants to succeed. He does not understand why people shout at him when a player misses a penalty. At yesterdays game we hit the post twice, had a perfectly good goal disallowed, had the ball kicked off the goal line three times and missed a penalty. The lines between success and failure are very thin.

On the way back from games we listen to the radio as fans tweets and texts are read out – clueless, tactically inept, no passion, lost the dressing room etc… On and on it goes. My son is still unwavering in his support (I love him for this) and he believes that if we go down then this will give the manager time to build the team under less pressure. I don’t have the heart to tell him this will never happen.

Last night I had this thought… What if Ofsted reports were chants from the terraces – how would this translate? So, I looked up some reports from 2017 and I quickly realised that they are already just as brutal.

Leadership is weak.

Could be a terrace chant of, “Out! Out! Out!” Or as @smithsmm said, “You’re sh*t and you know you are…”

Leadership and management are inadequate because a succession of school leaders has not ensured a good standard of education.

Could be a terrace chant of, “You’re getting sacked in the morning!”

Leaders and governors have an over-generous view of how well the school is doing (This is like the old marking comments – a generic statement used in many of the Special Measures Reports)

Could become, “You don’t know what you’re doing! You don’t know what you’re doing!”

Whereas, the fans are baying for the blood of the manager. It is often not the parents of the school baying for the blood of the school leadership. Though they may not be happy, parents, in my experience, want a less test driven primary education for their children. They want quality in all areas – not just literacy and numeracy. They are not concerned about scoring goals; they are more concerned about the development of the players within the team (In fact I would go as far as saying they care little for the team and more for the player).

There are a host of new ‘leadership tough’ statements in Ofsted reports. These are all from 2017 and I keep asking, where is the evidence in the statements? Other than test results how can an inspector truly (without subjective views) qualify some of these statements?


Leaders’ recent attempts to improve teaching have not been successful

Leaders do not spot trends and areas that need improvement, especially for groups of pupils.

Leaders have not made improving their attainment a sufficiently high priority.

Leaders do not use pupil premium funding effectively to improve academic outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.

Reviews by leaders of the quality of the school are not conducted with enough skill to spot where improvement is needed.

Leaders do not have an insight into pupils’ learning in science because they do not regularly check the quality of pupils’ work.

The skills of middle leaders are not strong enough to support the new headteacher sufficiently to move the school forward

Leaders are too dependent upon help from the local authority to improve the school.

When I am at my most critical I could find evidence of all of these within 10 minutes of entering most schools I support:

Swap Science for History,

Pupil premium for summer born boys and;

Middle leaders for governors.

We are doing something very dangerous to school leadership right now. We are making it a poisoned chalice (I blame leaders for this as well)- I have heard this said about my headship many times after I took over from a long standing and established head and had to make many difficult decisions early in my headship at the school.

A sip from the poisoned chalice – why did you do it?

I am lucky because I have survived many years and know that eventually the tough times will be replaced with small shoots of hope and success on the muddy and barren pitch. You just may need to dig a lot deeper to find them, or better still – give them time to grow, because nothing grows in a toxic environment, nothing but more toxicity.