“I love encouraging children by saying things like, ‘I want you to have a job like mine so you can wake up each day and look forward to enjoying it’,” says Vic Goddard in the introduction to his book about being a headteacher, The Best Job in the World.
Recent developments, however, have put his enthusiasm to the test, leading him to pen a heartfelt open letter to Nicky Morgan expressing his stress and anxiety about losing “the job I love” if his school fails to meet the government’s floor targets.
Goddard said he stood by “every word” in his book, “but I could do with some help from you to convince others it is a good career choice”. He invited the education secretary to his school, Passmores Academy in Essex, for a latte and a chat about his worries, which she duly accepted.
School leadership, with its high-stakes accountability, can be challenging at the best of times. But the challenge becomes a survival course as the obstacles mount up – government reforms, swingeing funding cuts and, of course, teacher supply problems.
And, this week, that last headache looks like it is getting even bigger. Teach First, the largest provider of teachers in England, reports that schools are facing their worst recruitment crisis this century. This view is echoed by Ian Bauckham, headteacher of Bennett Memorial Diocesan School in Kent, who says they are facing a “perfect storm”.
In the face of such an onslaught, staying upbeat, shielding the school community from all these problems and wearing a Vic Goddard-style “stick-on grin” isn’t easy, but it is important. “Develop your resilience,” advises former headteacher Jill Berry. “Keep your integrity intact and remember what your core values are, even when – especially when – they may be sorely tested.” Despite all the challenges and all the responsibilities of leadership, she agrees with Goddard about the role – "it was definitely the best job I did over a 30-year career".
But no matter how resilient and robust heads are, one organisation casts an enormous shadow over their lives – Ofsted. There can be no underestimating the effect that the inspectorate is having on leaders, many of whom end up “losing their self-esteem, their health or their livelihoods”, as outlined so fiercely and so eloquently by headteacher Geoff Barton. Inconsistent and insensitive inspections ill serve a profession already battling the odds.
It is sad and unsustainable that it comes to this: an organisation that exists to drive up standards is instead driving headteachers to despair. No one is arguing for the abolition of inspection (except perhaps the Green Party before the election): it is vital in serving the interests of pupils and parents. But this cannot be to the detriment of headteachers and teachers who, it should not be forgotten, are working towards that same goal. Ofsted has a responsibility to protect taxpayers’ money, but who is responsible for protecting school staff from its excesses and shortcomings?
Morgan says that her “duty is to support the excellent headteachers”. This week they have left her in no doubt where to start.
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