Secret Teacher: education needs more troublemaker school leaders

The latest Secret Teacher in the Guardian says headteachers shouldn’t be subservient managers who open the Ofsted book and enact it without question. But infiltrating the ranks to inspire change is proving tricky…

I love my job. In many ways it is the perfect job for me.

It allows all my strengths to be distilled into a pure form of pedagogy which inspires, educates, amuses and challenges children of all ages and abilities. I do it well. In fact, I do it very well…

The trouble is I’m not an ostrich: I refuse to bury my head in the sand. I look around at what I’m expected to do and the direction my profession is currently heading and I can’t help but feel angry. I feel that schools should be much freer from political interference by ambitious but clueless political ideologues; testing should only be used as a tool for teacher assessment; league tables are divisive as well as misleading and should be abolished; and Ofsted needs to be reconstituted as a supportive and advisory body. There aren’t just my beliefs, but the conclusions of the biggest independent study into education for 40 years – the Cambridge Primary Review.

Not being an ostrich was fine when I was a class teacher. All I needed to do was keep quiet and follow orders. But one day I woke up and decided that I wanted to do more than shape learning in a single classroom – I wanted to do it throughout a school. That was more than two years ago and since then I have been diligently trying to achieve this ambition by becoming a headteacher.

…my early forays into the application process taught me a few harsh lessons. The most prominent was that there were certain things that couldn’t be questioned: Ofsted raised standards; targets helped children progress; we [the profession] were moving forward.

So I ignored my seditious beliefs as best I could. And yet, like a recalcitrant child, they would start playing up at the most inopportune moment. I would be answering a rather benign interview question about what to do with a stubbornly satisfactory teacher and I would slip into a fatal verbal cul-de-sac:

“No child deserves a satisfactory education, you’re right. What I would add, though, is that it does depend on who’s calling the teacher satisfactory. Ofsted seem to take the approach that these professionals who give their blood, sweat and tears on a daily basis for the betterment of children should be thrown on the scrapheap and replaced…”

As soon as I headed down Digging-a-hole Drive I could sense the atmosphere in the room change. Brows began to furrow, writing stopped and heads started to slightly shake. I might as well have pulled out a cane, whacked it on the table, and stated that I wanted to improve discipline in the school by reintroducing corporal punishment.

I have started to learn, though. The same question now is followed with:

“Children only have one chance at their education and their time is short. So I would attempt to put strategies in place for the teacher to improve and if they don’t, then I would have no qualms about beginning competency proceedings.”

This elicits a far more approbatory response.

The lesson I’ve gleaned is simple: independent thinking, humanity and creativity are all frowned upon in favour of subservience, predictability and conformity. I am told which buttons to press, what ingredients to use and how long to mix. My only role should be to switch the mixer on and press “blend” and “eject” repeatedly…

This week’s Secret Teacher is head hunting in Yorkshire…

More at: Secret Teacher: education needs more troublemaker school leaders

Do you agree with the sentiments expressed by the Secret Teacher or feel there might be a legitimate problem trying to becoming a leader within a system with which he/she has so many issues? Those of you who are heads, how do you feel about the implication that you are subservient, predictable conformists? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…

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Categories: Teaching.


  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove This is spot on – Ofsted’s totalitarian power is too great to be of any real use to education

  2. kccv1

    #Innovative, #creative, #supportive and #inspirational #school #leadership is not #troublemaking?

  3. mason_creative

    I like the spirit of this person.  Professionals should be encouraged to think, adapt and act without the fear of OFSTED et al.

  4. TheMorganics

    angelsoft_ICT SchoolsImprove Subservience, conformity & predictability are all gov’t wants from the children too. Vote this lot out!

  5. lsrask

    SchoolsImprove ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ Careful what you wish for. Dissonance is not always good.

  6. angelsoft_ICT

    TheMorganics SchoolsImprove Folks I doubt much of this would go. Of all of ’em, Gove has what every politician wants- legacy. Like or lump

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