The Dear Leaders

I have worked with two Heads (although one, the best, for a short time only). Sadly, I have had to work for three more. I have worked with two Deputies and for ten more. More recently I have had to work for five Assistant Heads. The Heads, Deputies and half of the Assistants have all lied to me at least once with the sole exception of the briefest and best Head. Not little fibs you understand but big black manipulation by deception falsehoods.

Far worse, most of them have done things that would cause reasonable minds to question if they had entered the area of corruption; here are some of the ‘highlights’ of the last 30 years.

Nepotism: A Head employed a ‘close family member’ temporarily. A short time later made the post permanent and soon after, led a small interview panel to promote them to the senior tier of middle management. Not merely a conflict of interest but a clear, direct pecuniary one. A ‘close family member’ of an SLT post holder is appointed temporarily. After a while the Head of Department wished to advertise the post nationally, the incumbent may apply. The Head and Deputy were allegedly ‘strongly lobbied’ by the SLT relative to prevent this. The incumbent is made permanent, the HoD leaves, the ‘close family member’ became Head of Department.

I have other examples but those are the ‘best’.

Favouritism: The Head made a plan to marginalise the ‘faces that don’t fit’ and make middle managers ‘promise the Moon’. A reorganisation! All had to apply for their jobs with different (extended) job descriptions except SLT of course. Interviews were held, those not successful had pay protected for a few years as they faded away. Perfect! Except some senior middle leaders wouldn’t do it, they would rather quit. The procedures imposed for vacancies insist on internal redeployment; it was likely that those intended for redundancy would be appointed. What to do? Well what was done was that one of the recalcitrants was interviewed at length and browbeaten with the idea that their carefully gathered and developed team were being abandoned by them to disastrous leadership, if only they would apply, be appointed then immediately resign the post could be advertised, the procedures circumvented and a great new leader put in place. Another was even more bizarre: a chain of intermediaries put the same argument with the final plea “he only has to sign the application, the rest can be filled in for him”.

I used to chuckle at the ‘Peter Principle’ recognising that it reflected a lot of what I saw. Scott Adams’ ‘Dilbert Principle’ I found far-fetched until I looked at more recent leaders. An example: An administrator proved unable to fulfil the role. It was chaos. Eventually, colleagues would copy me into correspondence to prove their diligence. Fortunately, the administrator was one of the chosen ones, very rapidly promoted to an executive role in SLT. Others replaced them in the previous roles, the chaos went away.

I have numerous other examples.

Money: As a Governor I listened to a Head passionately and persuasively argue for expansion. It would bring funds but stretch the school’s systems perhaps to breaking point. What was not mentioned was that coincidentally, when complete, it would lead to improved pay scales for SLT. It was done and a few years later when fully chaotically swollen the head retired on the newly inflated final salary pension. Again, not just a conflict of interest, a direct pecuniary one.

When I first saw the Head’s expenses I was shocked, it was a p.t. T.A. salary and many other staff were regularly denied permission to attend courses, conferences and meetings as “we couldn’t afford the cover”. Think about that for a moment, the Head is salaried to run the school, chooses to be largely absent then claims large sums in compensation for not personally attending to their duties. Then there are those SLT ‘away days’. Before MPs expenses scandals they were weekends in luxury hotels in national beauty spots arguably thrice paid: salary, benefit in kind and expenses claim. Since then, they still go on but shorter, local, low-key and less opulent.

Once more I have other examples.

Teaching: I have seen examples of SLT leading from the front, open and available for scrutiny like anyone else but it has become rare. An SLT member taught a vocational course, there were complaints from T.A. that they were being asked to “help” with coursework too much ( they were worried that they would be in trouble if found out). The course was to be dropped, the SLT member will teach GCSE top set. A month before this was due to start the Head instructed the Head of Department that the SLT member will choose their course and class. The course continued.

In the Department everyone was told which course to teach and what classes they would take except for SLT who chose low accountability classes and chose the pupils to go in them. Year 7 and BTEC have been favourite so far, except of course, they often have more important things to do than teach so cover supervisors do it instead.

Just about anyone can observe (and grade) classroom teachers but only SLT may observe each other (and then only line managers) some truly shocking teachers have been in charge of Pedagogy, but then they have done a lot if reading and there is that Masters…

So what’s the point?: when I started to consider this post I thought that the decline in Leadership standards that I have observed was due to eroding integrity but looking back it has always been poor and to be clear none of the examples are hearsay (of which I have many more examples) but are events in which I was involved to a greater or lesser degree and I attest to their truth.

Everyone leading learning with children needs the currency of credibility that is earned by showing:-

  • Integrity
  • Capability
  • Humanity

I have seen schools transformed (improved) by leaders with questionable integrity but an abundance of capability. In my view it is capability that has been eroding.

25 years ago there were fewer leaders (1 Head and 2 Deputies was common for 1100 pupil schools post 1988 ERA and Local Financial Management). They were often older, had taught more and had their own principles and internal, experience based institutional ideals. (I remember being able to tell which primary a student came from by their manners). Today, many seem to be dogma-driven agents of OFSTED.

It doesn’t have to be this way, it wasn’t.

Postscript. I don’t claim to be able to do the fantastically difficult and stressful job of SLT; I would be an honest incompetent.

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2 Responses to The Dear Leaders

  1. Sneedhamsnic says:

    To say I agree with you is an understatement – it always fills me with horror when government bods suggest giving heads greater autonomy.
    I have experienced 5 heads in 20 years and 6 in past 3 years so I really know about heads.

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