You know those moments in long meetings where you’re trying to listen, really hard, but you had the sponge and custard at lunch time and the carbs have kicked in, so you position yourself in the “carefully considering” pose, head pointed at the whiteboard, pen in hand, nodding every now and then, but actually your mind has drifted far, far away? No? Fibber. I have those moments every now and then, and in those moments I sometimes imagine the team I’m sitting with as characters in famous books and films. I once tried casting my old SLT team as Harry Potter characters. I was doing quite well until I realised I was almost certainly going to have to cast myself as Dolores Umbridge, so I gave up that approach and moved quite swiftly on.
So then I thought about the standard characters you meet in schools. You know the ones, and how some of those same character types exist in all walks of life and also in literature and cinema; the heroes, the zeros, the cast of the epic tale that make up our school journeys. So is a senior leadership team a microcosm of the primary personality traits we all know and recognise? Do we need all of those characters to make up one big successful blockbuster of a team? Can we make a Belbin’s-hats-type comparison to school leaders and apply it to the big screen? And vice versa? Could we cast the characters of the most successful fictional adventures and put them in charge of our schools? Could, say, the Fellowship of the Ring cast get a school from "good" to "outstanding"? Come with me and we’ll find out:
Gandalf the Grey
Clearly an experienced head. Every team needs its leader, and this guy’s been around the block a few times. He knows a few tricks (ahem) and can see the potential in even the most Newly Qualified Hobbit. If there was a TLR for Valour, his choice of whom to bestow it on might surprise you at first but by the end of the academic year, you can be sure that his favoured Hobbit will have risen up the ranks to Head of Department at the very least.
He’s seen it all, Grant Maintained, Extended Schools, Diplomas – the flittering whims of electoral promises cast aside as each new age dawns. He remains constant in his purpose and will gladly ride out in battle to defend his realm from the Orcs of funding cuts, forced academisation or the injustice of ever-changing Inspection Frameworks.
Despite his tendency for overly dramatic bellowing and a propensity for grey school uniforms, Gandalf has got discipline nailed. If he won’t let a Balrog pass, a Year 11 without a tie on won’t stand a chance when yer man’s on corridor duty. Sometimes out of school on secret quests, he relies on his team to keep the mission focused, but there’s generally a huge sigh of relief when you see his white horse parked in his reserved space at the front of school.
This young fellow has had leadership thrust upon him. One moment a humble sociology teacher, the next he was put on a fast-track NPQH programme and within a year has been handed the School Development Plan and a stubby pencil with which to rewrite it. He carries the hopes of the entire school on his woollen shoulders and now has to see if he can transform the skills he’s shown in assembly into something bigger. Popular with staff and often spotted in the canteen, Frodo won’t ever miss lunch duty or turn away a student in need. He’ll happily take detentions even though it isn’t really his turn.
Heavily supported by his best mate and pastoral manager Samwise, Frodo sometimes struggles with work-life balance and really needs to read up on wellbeing in order to achieve his full potential. Could also pick up the homework rota and community links, if no one else will take them.
The senior deputy head. Clearly a head in the making and the rightful king of the lower school, he’s not popular with his SLT colleagues as he’s here on secondment from the "outstanding" academy down the road, and no one really knows why. There’s rumour of a dalliance with the enticing and ethereal Arwen, head of art, but the pair are shrouded in mystery and have only once been spotted sharing a fairy cake at the food-tech bake sale.
The time is coming for him to claim the throne, and the head’s PA has spotted an increase in the number of teacher pensions seminar flyers stuffed into the boss’s pigeon hole. Aragorn is good, and he knows it. He leads on Staffing and has the power of the training budget behind him. Don’t turn your back on him, as he’s also in charge of appraisal.
Merry and Pippin
Associate senior leaders. Both on a one-year secondment to SLT, these two encapsulate the NPQSL. Keen, hardworking, and prepared to work for no extra money, they are bubbling with ideas. Will regularly turn up to meetings with sugar paper, Post-it Notes and marker pen exercises in “strategic leadership”. Masters of the one-year project, they have an action plan for everything and a custom-made rubber stamp with smiley faces on.
Regular cake bringers, these two soak up the On-Call rota slack and are loved by permanent members of SLT for their willingness to jump on and cheerlead any new Middle Earth directives. With only 39 weeks to prove themselves, these waggy-tailed pups will have their work cut out if they want a seat around the big table next year. Expect a jargon-packed 360 Impact Report by May half-term.
Gimli is the longest-serving member of staff and has worked his way to the top of his iron ladder by sheer doggedness. After 25 years as head of tech, Gimli earned his seat around the table by being the only applicant for the newly created director of studies post in 1983. Always devil’s advocate, Gimli is a useful sounding board for new ideas. Or so he says.
Gimli runs a compulsory metalwork club for “difficult” pupils and hosts a summer holiday camp involving caving, metal detecting and leather work. Leads on Timetable, Exams and British Values. Allegedly married, although has never been seen leaving the building. Not a fan of collaborative learning, innovation, the government, change, or shaving.
Head of PE and staff governor. Fiercely competitive, Boromir believes that schools should be judged almost entirely on the success or failures of the first eleven. Leading on behaviour management, he operates a no-nonsense approach to discipline. Corridors are empty in lesson time, as only the bravest or foolish students would risk meeting him for a game of corridor dodgeball without a pass.
He once made the front page of the local paper for sending the whole of Year 7 home on their first day for not wearing the right uniform. Sadly, he had missed the email informing staff of the new-style blazers. Never quite lived it down. Keeps a spare PE kit on him at all times and has only ever been seen in long trousers once, when his mum came to visit.
The poster boy. A drama teacher of AST standing, this heartthrob has Year 10 entirely under his spell and once had a rumoured bit part in Casualty in 1997. A gifted and flamboyant pedagogue, he leads on teaching and learning with flair, leather trousers and extremely good hair.
This is the man you go to when there’s a one-day inspection or when the dusky wizard that is the regional schools commissioner pays a visit. A master of cross-curricular innovation, Legolas can pull an outstanding lesson out of his quiver in any subject you like. His style is mainly based on outdoor learning, he is oft-spotted with a train of students, leaping from rock to rock and shouting Huzzah! Always leads on school trips. Usually to Isengard.
So there you have it – the cast of the Fellowship. I’ll leave you to cast your own supporting characters of Gollum, Galadriel and Treebeard, but you may be wondering where the business manager is in this esteemed gathering?
While this rabble were spending six months traipsing across Middle Earth, risking life and limb to deliver their heroic destiny, the business manager was sitting by a fountain in Rivendell, having booked the Eagle Delivery Service to pick up and deliver one small jewellery box direct to Mount Doom, guaranteed Next Day Delivery or your money back.
Hilary Goldsmith is director of finance and operations at Varndean School. She tweets at @sbm365