In the court of Mr Charisma;School Management

10th April 1998 at 01:00
With a restless perfectionist as a headteacher, success should come easily, reports Stephen Hoare

People in the grip of an obsession work day and night to achieve their aims. Work becomes all-embracing; home life dwindles. Ken Shorey, head of Court Moor school in Fleet, Hampshire, routinely works up to 70 hours a week.

"I'm in school from 8am to 10pm most days and during the holidays I generally pop into school every other day if I'm not away with my family."

Shorey is no slave to unnecessary paperwork - the hours he works are part and parcel of running a successful secondary school.

"I try not to have my engaged light on during the day. Anyone who wants to see me can - it's constant interruptions. And then, in the evening we have a full programme - parents' evenings, governors' meetings, committees, parent-teacher association. I'm at virtually every one."

In addition, the school has an adult education centre on the premises which comes under his jurisdiction and a youth club which doesn't. Both, however, make calls on his time.

In the Eighties Britain became the workaholic capital of Europe, if not the world. The work ethic was in and suddenly it became fashionable to boast about the hours you were doing.

While business is starting to realise the downside of long hours - tired and stressed workers are less productive - schools, it seems, are still willing to bite the bullet. The bullet even has a name - it is called continuous improvement. Shorey says: "Our school has a can-do attitude; it's a continuous improvement culture."

What this means is being proactive. Partly this is a consequence of the school's location; partly it is due to Shorey's own restless perfectionism. The school is set in a mixed but predominantly middle-class catchment area. Court Moor's parents are aspirational - typically dual income.

The school puts a lot of effort into the twin aims of its mission statement - namely, "to ensure that all pupils fulfil every aspect of their potential" and "to develop as a caring community based upon values of mutual respect and self-discipline".

The school has achieved an Investors in People award - the government scheme to encourage employees to use their initiative and to improve management skills. It also has all the mechanisms in place to target special needs pupils and the most able.

Shorey says: "We have a real commitment to pupils right across the ability range. Rarely does a child leave this school without at least five GCSE passes including English, maths and science."

League table results show that 67 per cent of pupils obtain five A-C grade GCSEs, compared to the national average of 43 per cent. A recent report from the Office for Standards in Education praised the school for outstanding achievement.

The registered inspector wrote: "The charismatic leadership by the headteacher underpins all that is good in the school."

Shorey accepts the praise but adds: "This is no one-man band. The staff here at every level are outstanding and it's a privilege to lead them."

He has some trenchant comments to make about OFSTED. "If 90 per cent of improvement comes before an inspection then it is a terrible indictment of our profession. It's as if schools needed a gun held to their heads.

"In our case we have responded not with a single sheet of A4, but with one of our most challenging action plans ever."

He flourishes three tightly packed pages of A3 spreadsheet detailing how every area of the school is going to improve continuously, complete with timescale and resource implications.

As the school's results have improved year on year, its reputation has spread by word of mouth and admissions have soared. The roll is 944 and rising - up from 875 last year.

Parents send their children from as far away as Farnborough, Aldershot and Farnham - within a 10-mile radius - and the school has expanded from a six to an eight-form entry.

Court Moor does a lot for its parents. Shorey spends 20 minutes with every prospective parent before they are shown around the school.

These visits are not stage-managed and parents are welcome to come look and around at any time during the day to see the place - warts and all.

The school also runs two series of popular seminars. One advises parents on how to support children in their learning and another sets out to explain how the curriculum is being taught - via practical demonstrations in classrooms. In effect parents are going back to school to see at first-hand what it is like to be a pupil of the Nineties.

Shorey believes the pressures on today's headteacher have never been greater, but as a father of four children he makes a great effort to preserve time for his family.

If school standards continue to rise it is only through the efforts of a dedicated staff. He says: "It is frightening the amount of time heads have to put in to run schools effectively. Yes, my workload is high, but it is not particularly exceptional."

A parent who was a teacher in another school approached Shorey at one of the Court Moor's evening events, praised the school's efforts and mentioned that she would love to work in such an environment.

Shorey's reply was characteristically to the point: "You may think you'd like it. But it's tough teaching here. You'd better believe it."

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