Dreams of leaving

Mike Kent

Tes Editorial

A recent TES survey said more than half of secondary headteachers are considering leaving. It's hardly surprising. Heads are fed up with being blamed, bullied and mistrusted. They are sick of being seen as whingers who aren't trying hard enough to make every child an Einstein. The barrage of hostility heads face is palpable, but being a headteacher was never an easy option, especially if, like me, you take on a challenging school in a tough area.

During my first year, I wondered what had hit me. I inherited a difficult deputy at the end of her career, a premises officer I couldn't trust, a staff whose abilities ranged from amazing to grim, a paedophile parent, a teaching assistant talented at work avoidance, and a Year 6 whose work ethic was non-existent. When I asked one boy why he had written only three words for his story, he said: "That's all I ever write."

These were problems that could be sorted. What I didn't bargain for were the battles I was about to have with the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) and its local officers. In those days, supply agencies didn't exist and you phoned the local office for a teacher. I quickly learned that you got one only if half your staff were at death's door.

Because the deputy was retiring, I requested somebody to fill the gap until the new appointment and was told that a teacher would be sent immediately as I was a "new head". After an extremely difficult six weeks with the gentleman, and a visit to a racial tribunal, I discovered he was a known troublemaker the authority was trying to dispose of, and no other local head would touch him.

It was so hard to get supply teachers that I ended up doing a lot of teaching myself, with little time for anything else. And then schools suddenly received a directive from the senior inspector, a gentleman who had spent all of two years in the classroom. It said we had to provide a development plan for the next three years, and in a letter to the ILEA's internal newspaper I pointed out that many of us were working flat out to get from one end of the day to the other. I got a huge response from colleagues in agreement. Not the inspector, though. I was still at school the evening he phoned my home in a threatening manner, although my wife gave him short shrift indeed.

Shortly afterwards, the authority insisted I receive an excluded child whose mother had requested my school, and promised a great deal of support. The child was totally out of control and the support proved non-existent. And when I had been without a supply teacher for five weeks and parents obligingly marched to County Hall to ask what was being done about it, an official told them to go away because she had meetings to attend. We were on television that night, and once again I received a midnight knock. I was rapidly acquiring a reputation ...

During my career, I have battled with tiresome officials making ridiculous demands, Ofsted inspectors who wouldn't recognise a child if they fell over one, and authority officers trying to make me fill in their increasingly ludicrous bits of paper, but throughout it all I have had the most incredible loyalty and affection from my staff, the children and their parents, and my school was always a thriving and happy one.

Which is why I still think headship is the best job in the world. But, these days more than ever, you do have to stand up and be counted.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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