Secret Teacher: it’s time to get shot of incompetent heads

The latest Secret Teacher, who works in a primary school in North West England, says headteachers’ management skills should be independently scrutinised, ‘for the good of the children. This is from the Guardian…

Yesterday I heard the phrase “for the good of the children” used by a primary headteacher for the umpteenth time this year. It usually gladdens me, as it should every other teacher committed to their profession. After all, it’s why we became teachers, isn’t it?

Instead, once again, it saddened me. It made me hang my head and almost weep. It made me frustrated, then angry. Why? Because the truth is that some headteachers use it as an excuse for intimidation, victimisation, bullying and as a tool to cause a teacher so much stress they leave the school, if not the profession.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m sure that there are teachers who are struggling with the normal requirements of the role, who aren’t effective teachers, who really should not be teachers at all. They do children a disservice and need to realise that they are in the wrong profession and should leave. If that means a headteacher following a capability procedure, so be it. And most headteachers do this. They follow the policy, the procedure, supporting as far as possible until the policy has run its course.

But there is another breed of headteacher out there. The ambitious head, the Ofsted-pressured head, the head appointed who isn’t really up to the multi-functional, all-encompassing role they have found themselves in. Many of these heads begin their careers with the right intentions; successful school, happy children, valued and involved staff. But then the change comes. What triggers this change? Culture/ethos/practice not changing quickly enough? Budget pressures? Ofsted pressures? Damage to ego when challenged by junior staff?

In any event the result is the same:

• Workload is increased (for the good of the children)

• Criticism is unacceptable and warrants a rebuke (for the good of the children)

• Meetings become more frequent and/or longer (for the good of the children)

• Deadlines are vigorously enforced (for the good of the children)

• Cliques are formed and informers are employed (for the good of the children)

• Veiled threats are made regarding future prospects (for the good of the children)

• Observation and scrutiny frequency increases and feedback is increasingly negative (for the good of the children)

• Struggling and/or expensive older teachers are targeted for capability procedures (for the good of the children)

• During capability procedures, goalposts are moved and support is minimal. Criticism is frequent (for the good of the children)

• Opinions contrary to those of leadership are frowned upon, disparaged, laughed at (for the good of the children)

• A climate of fear becomes the norm. Staff members talk about those who have left and why and wonder who is next (for the good of the children).

Does this seem ridiculous? Impossible? Rare?

Unfortunately it’s neither impossible nor rare. It’s more common than you may like to imagine. Ridiculous? Yes, I agree. I agree it is ridiculous to have anti-bullying policies in schools where staff members are routinely bullied, intimidated and threatened. It’s ridiculous that a headteacher can behave this way in the 21st century with virtual impunity.

Surely not, you say? Virtual impunity? Yes, virtual impunity. Who checks on headteachers? Ofsted? Do they? Do they really? Their visit is as carefully orchestrated as a Beethoven concerto. Staff members are warned about the consequences of going into a category of failing. Are teachers confidentially interviewed by Ofsted about their roles? No.

So who does check up on them? The local authority? Do they? Do they really? Local authorities do not inspect schools, drop in or survey teaching stsaff. They do not check up on headteachers. Why would they? There’s nothing wrong.

So it’s down to the governing body. But do they? Do they really? No, not as a matter of course. They attend governing body meetings after school where they talk to the head and senior leaders. They have arranged visits where everything can be set up beforehand and the head and senior leaders have given the staff members and children clear instructions and expectations. They get the party line from wary and subdued staff members. If something does eventually emerge, usually because of some form of industrial action, they are almost always “shocked,” “flabbergasted” or “gobsmacked”. They had no idea such a regime existed in their school – well, why would they?

So who checks on headteachers and how they manage their staff members on a regular, formal basis? No one. Why would they? In my experience, heads can (and do in many schools) intimidate, bully, harass and threaten staff on a daily basis with impunity, justifying it as being for the good of the children, until for some reason a union gets involved. But what if a union doesn’t get involved?…

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