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Groomed for success

How would you like to be led by the headteacher who wrote this? "The firm belief of everyone who works with Gary is that, no matter what problems the child brings, there is always a good possibility of change and the chance of a better life... Gary is one of those rare people who has been able, through a combination of natural ability, a willingness to discover and adopt new techniques and his real passion for working with difficult children, to carve himself a unique niche..."

It's a super testimonial, but in fact it's not about a school at all. If you go through it again, changing child and children to horse and horses, you'll see that it's actually a description of the work of a very successful trainer who runs a stable in Wiltshire.

I came across it because I was pondering the reputation of a school I once taught at in Birmingham. It was known in the local authority as "a good stable". What this meant was that almost every teacher who left went on to a good promotion. As a result, you could look around the country and find any number of headteachers, deputies and middle managers who had taught with us for a few years.

I have wondered on and off about the metaphor, and what a "good stable"

might be like. Now, reading about Gary, I can see that the expression was very precisely chosen, perhaps by an education officer with a love of the racing game.

The passage also corrected a misapprehension of mine. I'd always believed that the key to our school's success in producing leaders lay primarily in the way staff were nurtured and guided. The head was keen to see everyone moving up to the next available qualification - diplomas turned into degrees, first degrees into masters. When I went there I had a teaching certificate; I came away, six years later, with two degrees and a music diploma.

This nurturing environment was certainly part of the secret of the school's success. What really makes a "good stable" is the way the horses - or children, in this case - are looked after. Staff development can only build on that. It's not something separate from the values deployed in the teaching and learning arena.

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