Can we learn as much about educational leadership from novels as from training modules or research? Surely not. But a good novel can sometimes reach parts that other kinds of writing cannot.
In Jonathan Smith's novel, Patrick Balfour is a hugely successful headteacher, novelist, historian and media pundit. Then, suddenly, his glittering life is thrown into disarray by the arrival in school of a detective and his arrest on suspicion of theft, fraud and paedophilia. The evidence against him seems watertight but Balfour is convinced that he is the victim of identity fraud (an experience which apparently befell the author himself several years ago). But who might be out to get him, and what could he have done to have prompted such a terrible revenge? Gradually skeletons emerge from his cupboardI.
As a crime thriller, the novel moves at a brisk pace and has a satisfying denouement. But it is much more than that. Through sharp characterisation it demonstrates the fragility of even ostensibly successful leadership, along with the inner turmoil that is often associated with it. And in lining up the gallery of suspects and their possible motives the author provides a welcome counterweight to the idealistic view of "excellent" leadership so common in official circles today.
Ron Glatter is visiting professor in education at the Open University and Warwick University