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Fear and loathing in an annual union conference

I was present at the question-and-answer session at the annual conference of the UK's NAHT headteachers' union, which took place on 17-19 May. Education secretary Michael Gove said that he wanted to understand the causes of fear, stress and low morale in the profession. These are, broadly, the schools inspectorate Ofsted; constant change; and denigrating comments by Mr Gove and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education Sir Michael Wilshaw.

Ofsted has huge power. If it judges schools poorly, headteachers can lose their jobs in a humiliating way. That is frightening. The problem is that inspections are not consistently accurate. I was grateful to hear Mr Gove acknowledge this fact. Inaccurate and inconsistent inspections mean that inspectors can get it wrong. The possibility of a bad inspection strikes fear into leaders.

As a manager, the role of a headteacher is to deliver stable, successful outcomes for the future. Governments, and this one in particular, bring constant change. Teachers aim for one thing, and by the time it is measured something else is expected. They cannot aim for a goal that has not yet been defined.

Headteachers are highly experienced professionals who have earned their high status. They work long hours because they are dedicated and want to achieve the best for our children. Sir Michael and Mr Gove, however, have a habit of making denigrating comments on the record. Among other things, they have said that teachers should work longer hours; teachers have no reason to feel stressed; some teachers are out the gate at 3pm; and staff morale being at an all-time low is a sign that the headteacher is doing something right. These comments make teachers angry and stressed. Stress, in turn, makes it more difficult for them to be effective.

Now Mr Gove knows the reasons for teachers' fear, stress and low morale. He needs to make changes and treat headteachers and teachers with dignity and respect.

Keith Turner, Relative of a headteacher, Cambridgeshire.

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