Now I’m no expert on horse racing or anything involving horses, in fact quite the opposite. What I do remember though when I was younger was a horse named Hedgehunter. What was special about Hedgehunter was that he raced with a low head, so the jockey riding it needed to let it have it’s head to get the most out of the race. This, you could argue, is also true for teachers.
It is no secret that teachers are revolting, and in their masses, much to my annoyance and I’m sure quite a few parents as well. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector at Ofsted has identified a creeping trend of poor discipline, childish resentment and a blatant lack of respect for authority in our schools. Yet for once, it’s not the pupils who are under fire but the teachers. Yes, it seems the elders and should-know-betters are undermining attempts by head teachers to raise standards by passively – in some cases, actively – dragging their heels.
Describing a “pervasive resentment of all thing managerial”, Sir Michael says: “Some teachers simply will not accept that a school isn’t a collective but an organisation with clear hierarchies and separate duties.”
Leadership can be dealt with in different ways. There are heads that are like ickle pussycats but are great people who get the job done, displaying equal, if opposite permutations of forcefulness. But I’ve also encountered wishy-washy, drippy-droopy school leaders who couldn’t be trusted to mop up a spill in the canteen much less run an inner-city primary. A leader in the my school days reminds me very much of the latter of these two character portraits. The upshot was that his staff ridiculed him personally and countermanded him professionally, which did no one much good.
Yet it would be simplistic to place all the blame at the door of ineffectual heads, just as I fear, it is slightly heavy‑handed to accuse staff of deliberately sabotaging standards.
Much of the conflict lies in the spectre of performance-related pay – a policy that Sir Michael supports, which is the norm in the city academy system, hence he came. Certainly, academy schools rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted of late with all these new rules kicking in would probably have high energy enthusiastic staff with high morale. But this could also be true for other schools which do not adopt this pay structure. I have taught in schools where staff are really happy in their positions and love their job. If only every teacher was like that …
I can only infer that it’s the quality of leadership that’s the clincher; a clear vision, the ability to choose teachers who share that vision and the drive to push through change where change is needed.
For those children whose progress can be measured in conventional grades, there’s an argument for teachers’ salaries or bonuses to reflect success. But what about children who aren’t academic? Those who may be severely dyslexic, autistic, suffer from Asperger syndrome or have other difficulties that impair their learning? Of course they deserve to have the very best teachers, but how will the application, the dedication, the sheer God-given patience of those teachers be recognised financially?
We might like to imagine that teachers turn up to work for sheer love of the job, but they don’t. Or they might love their jobs, but they quite rightly expect to be remunerated for the graft they put in.
I suspect the reason why some teachers are difficult to manage is because they alone know what goes on in a classroom and what works with the children they have sitting in front of them. I’m sure Sir Michael is right when he says that teachers don’t much like being told what to do. Who does? He exhorts heads to challenge teachers with a rather odd turn of phrase: “This won’t make you popular, but if you wanted applause you would have joined the circus.”
Time to finish on a fun note, with a joke that a former colleague of mine once told me. A mother shakes her son awake one morning and tells him to hurry up and get to school. He burrows his head under the pillow and yells that the children hate him and the teachers hate him even more, but that if she can give him two good reasons, then he’ll consider turning up. “One, you’re 55 years old; and two, you’re the headmaster.”