Addled heads on a wind of change

16th February 2007 at 00:00
mrs walpole went for a job interview at a local school recently. Before you ask, she isn't a teacher. If I ever came home and had a discussion with my partner about marking techniques ("I favour the swap-your-books and mark-your-own method") I'd know my life had reached its nadir.

I primed her with all my experience from 10 years of teaching, and after that five-minute input I spent the rest of the time testing her on acronyms. She left the house well-versed in these and the answers to some of the toughest questions in teaching, such as,"Which is a bigger waste of money - the GTC or the NCSL?"

She was interviewed by a group of headteachers, and when I asked whether they had given any positive signs, she said it was "hard to tell, they all looked so miserable". I assured her that was usual.

I have observed from leadership conferences that most heads can be split into three groups: the cynical, the very cynical and those newly appointed.

According to the latest educational survey, the high point of school life for pupils is when they reach Year 5. It makes sense. Pocket money remains untaxed and you've had sex education lessons but are too young to realise that the chances of putting this new knowledge into action throughout your life will be infrequent and disappointing. Sats have been mentioned by your teacher but the target-setters have yet to brand "borderline level 4 - give me more homework" across your forehead.

Heads are about as far removed from Y5 as possible. But they are only too aware of Sats, especially since their local authority link adviser found out their home address and now stands outside it with a loudhailer every night screaming, "What about the level 5s? Your CVA scores are down... again!"

Every morning the postman delivers another five folders from the Government bearing the legend "status: statutory". A head I know used to turn the CD-Roms these missives often contain into wind chimes for his office. Visitors were always at risk of being blinded by the scores of shiny discs.

So what makes heads happy? For ordinary teachers the answer can be summed up in one word: holidays. Poor heads, however, are likely to spend a large proportion of their holidays being called out to school because the builders have accidently cut through a main sewer pipe under the nursery.

Next time you see the head staring sadly at the pile of post teetering on his or her desk, grab the folder off the top - the one marked "compulsory Mandarin Chinese for foundation stage".

You both know it's going in the bin, but you might just get a smile.

More from Henry in a fortnight

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