The dark side of the whiteboard - Fresh start comes to a sticky end

29th July 2011 at 01:00

I have a dirty secret. Last week I was interviewed for a head-of-year post at a rival school. It was partly driven by ambition, but more by money. Since my husband lost his job a while back, I've struggled to keep him in the LoveFilms and pointless online purchases to which he's grown accustomed. And since updating his CV comes second to updating Twitter with his pithy views on the American remake of #thekilling, I suspect he'll be jobless for some time yet.

But it wasn't just the money that tempted me; it was also the easier timetable. Middle managers have fewer contact hours and - if this job spec was anything to go by - the average HoY's timetable is lighter than a packet of Maltesers. A glimpse of the gross inequalities in next year's timetable had also fuelled my desire to move on: our SMT will see Halley's Comet more often than they'll see their students, and the few classes they do teach are hand-picked for quality and freshness. Even our HoDs' timetables are annoyingly light.

Of course, that's understandable if you are a leader of English, because you're in charge of a weapon of mass destruction that can destroy the school's league-table status with one dodgy set of results. But when your departmental responsibility rests on popping the odd tambourine into a store cupboard or photocopying Freres Jacques for the Year 7 recorder consort, just how much extra time do you really need? It's bizarre, given the difference in exam pressure and public accountability, that core and non-core leaders have similar contact-time commitments. In terms of their levels of responsibility, comparing a maths HoD with his Damp;T counterpart is like comparing the director of Homeland Security with a doorman at Wetherspoon's. Both are employed to keep trouble at bay, but when the former gets it wrong you risk cultural apocalypse and global economic meltdown and when the latter gets it wrong you end up with Guinness on your chips.

In truth, I'd rather stay where I am, but opportunities here are thin on the ground. Our SMT has sussed that we can be bought off cheaply with snazzy new job titles at no extra cost to the school, hence the recent development of hybrid roles with specious areas of responsibility, such as controller of KS4 progression, attainment and top-yard litter, or KS3 Chewits co-ordinator. Whatever else it says on the job spec, the chances are that your new responsibility will begin and end with bringing in the digestives and making sure there's enough Squeezy to last the week. Acceptance of one of these unpaid posts sends a clear message to your SMT that you are not only ready for professional advancement, but also stupid enough to do it for free.

Hence my attempt to shimmy up the pay scale in another school. I prepared meticulously for interview, learning every plausible acronym by heart. Now all I needed was to convince them that I could tell my AST from my Senco, and my FFTD from my Alps. It began well enough, but the afternoon panel interview was a disaster. As Lord Sugar's boardroom shows, humour is never a trustworthy ally. When asked "How would you raise attainment?" the quick-fire answer "By lowering targets?" probably cost me the job.

So next year I'm pitching internally for Head of Post-its and Director of Gamp;T. Until then, I'll be happy enough in my classroom, teaching the ungifted and talent-free.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England.

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