Some years ago I met a Gentle Man that changed my mind about consultants. He is wise, capable and worth every penny of his modest fee.
More recently, I have been reminded that he is an exception and that ‘school improvement’ has provided rich opportunities for incapable parasites to infest institutions and perpetrate their confidence tricks on rabbit-in-the-headlight Heads in RI and SM schools.
They were introduced as “Ex-Head”, “Ex-Executive Head”, “Consultant”, “OFSTED inspector”. A dig around the web found that one had been a principal of a part of an Academy briefly, before free-falling results led to Category 4, resignation and reorganisation. One hadn’t really been a head at all; the executive Head Teacher title involved no actual running of a school, in fact there was no evidence of teaching sullying their career at all for the past twenty years. Of course, the “inspector” title was associate. A career seemed to have been built on ‘advice’.
They smiled, learning walked, work scrutinied, sat in offices tapping keyboards, met with SLT and said that the school was basically sound, a few “tweaks” would see it found “Good” at the next inspection. It reassured the Head, countered those harbingers of doom that said that behaviour was poor, learning laggardly and results about to imitate a submarine. And it was a lie.
OFSTED came: Special Measures ensued. Were these advisers asked for some of their fees back? At least, were they dispensed with? Unbelievably, they were given more cash, more days, more prominence. They were joined by others: another ex-Head of a failed Academy, other more ghostly office inhabitants, rarely seen on a corridor still less a classroom, writing more reports, having more meetings and drafting more policies. Some came and went without disturbing anyone, others provided the full inconvenience; another unofficial OFSTED. What were they for? The official report was clear; it was obvious that the school should do what it said. The Consultants seem to have been used to try to show progress without changing practice and to reform policy without significantly altering principle or procedure. They provided ‘training’: hours about catering for Learning Styles, Multiple intelligences and differentiation, an explanation that poor behaviour was because teachers didn’t “de-escalate conflict” and called for support too much and when daily-abused teachers muttered discontent at this the Consultant audience intervened to tell them how “hard SLT and consultants had worked on this policy”. They aren’t even good snake-oil salespeople, they need a desperate audience to accept their lies, superficial observations and soothing suggestions that fundamental revolutionary change BY SLT is not needed. No-one has asked the supply teachers, actually working, immersed in the institution, still less the permanent staff. What would they know?
The real obscenity of this is the cost. A Deputy complained to me that one was trousering well in excess of £500 per day and that if scaled up to an annual salary would be paid six figures. Some of the others get more. At one of the daily harangues they were lined up before the staff, several of which performed a quick calculation that £3000 would leave the building in their accounts for that day and to what effect? At best none, at worst more disruption to lessons and routine work and more ammunition for inaction. The monthly cost must be a substantial five figure sum, the opportunity cost is even more heartbreaking: imagine spending the same amount on people to supervise the students more closely, to quieten the unstructured times, to sit with the restless or removed in classes.
How do they get away with it? Some rely on a lack of due diligence by desperate Heads, others are fronted by agencies and more are provided by Academy trusts and teaching schools as part of their ‘school improvement’ narrative. They are unaccountable. They swarm over the terminally sick school and when it succumbs they flee the corpse to infect another host. A never-ending merry go round of failure that mirrors the career of some.
I am more than ever convinced that the Gentle Man I met so long ago really is a diamond in a cess-pit.