Boldly going where others have gone

29th March 1996 at 00:00
I am about to leave a school whose former head was obsessed with naval metaphors. He was a confirmed Star Trek addict who admitted openly to pupils that he modelled himself on the captain of the Starship Enterprise.

He saw himself boldly taking his school to where no school had been before, and would continually upbraid critics of his plans as "mutineers". Though the school he took over was of merchant navy quality, he delighted in castigating his staff as though they were an illiterate crew of itinerant seamen: "The view from the bridge is a lot different than it is from the decks." His first officer might have spoken up for the crew, but such was the domineering presence of the captain, he chose discretion as the better part of valour.

As a result, many of the experienced crew jumped ship, leaving a residue of ill-informed and ill-equipped men and women to run the vessel.

The captain ended up with just the kind of crew he despised, the kind of self-fulfilling prophesy he had been taught to guard against. He began to attack them with renewed vigour, insisting as part of his "total quality management" that they scrub the decks and carry out a thousand and one tasks which distracted them from their real mission. The captain won his right to manage, but at what cost?

For although he knew where he wanted to go, there was no one left to take proper care of the engines or cargo, and no one to watch when some someone or something went overboard.

This once proud ship lurch- ed through ever more stormy seas in constant danger of foundering.

How many of you experienced practitioners have given up your commission because of an overbearing captain? How many are tempted to throw yourselves overboard? Or how many carry on sailing under a flag of convenience, dreading the day when you collide mid-Channel and sink.

The author is leaving his post in Wales. The "captain" has retired due to ill health.

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