New heads, atten-shun!

Mike Kent

Good morning everyone, and welcome to your final lecture before you take up your new headships. I'm the man from the ministry who's been detailed to go through the finer points of leadership and management so that you all get off to a flying start. I've got a pretty good knowledge of how education works because, like you, I've been through the education process. Not in the same sort of school, granted, but that's the wonderful thing about our system. Lots of choice and opportunity.

The first thing to note is that headship isn't what it used to be. I expect most of you will remember the rosy-cheeked headteachers of the past who spent much of their time talking to teachers and parents, and putting up work displays. Some of them even talked to children or taught them, for heaven's sake. But that's water under the bridge. Today's headteacher is forward looking, determined and set on raising standards by any means possible.

We want Britain to have a world-class education system. Satisfactory will not do. If we cannot compete in the global village, we are letting our children down. And children are the stakeholders. They have a right to know where they stand in comparison with their peers at any given moment. If my son had slipped from a level 4a to a level 4b, I would want him to know about this serious failing. I'd want him to discuss improvement targets with me and I'd certainly want to know what the teacher intended to do about it. That, as you know, is called "parental involvement".

You'll be expected to monitor your teachers to make sure this sort of slippage doesn't occur. Deploy your senior leaders properly. Scrutinise the planning your teachers produce in minute detail. Make sure it is thoroughly comprehensive for every lesson and reject anything that doesn't fit the Ofsted profile. Get your senior management to sit menacingly in the corners of classrooms with a clipboard. Whatever you do, don't trust teachers to work creatively and organise things for themselves. If their data do not show constantly upward trends, they need to understand that you'll be on their tails.

Expediency, efficiency. Useful words to remember. If the exam question is going to be about the balcony scene, there's no point in Mrs Jones doing the whole of Romeo and Juliet.

There's no room for weakness in management today. The time when you might have sympathised with a weeping Mrs Smithers because her cat's tail got trapped in the mangle has long gone. Either Mrs Smithers gets her act together or she goes. Simple as that. You owe it to our children. They are our future.

You'll probably say "Ah, but the unions won't allow too much monitoring". Well, the unions have lost most of their teeth anyway. Just wander into a classroom and tell the teacher you're tracking Charley Farley individually, and that it isn't a formal monitoring session. In that way, you can pretend to put them at their ease, but still put the fear of God up 'em.

Finally, a word about challenging children. They seem to be on the increase these days. Can't think why, but the benefit of headship is that you don't have to deal with it. That's why you've got foot soldiers.

Every 11-year-old a level 5. Every 15-year-old a university contender. That's our vision and it's down to you, headteachers. Onwards and upwards.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email:

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