Even the superheads grow weary

11th January 2008 at 00:00
"There are headteachers who are tired of children ... parents ... staff ... and that's where the schools go under," says Vimal Sharma (TES, January 4). The suggestion is that Ofsted should combine "diagnosis, treatment and nursing".

I believe that for a failing school, help from Ofsted will be too little, too late. I also believe that it is not really the children, parents and staff who make heads tired.

The same shiny new head who takes over a failing school and turns it round can later turn into the tired head under whom the school fails again. It happened to me, and I have seen it happen to colleagues. Schools in socially deprived areas are particularly complex ones for a head to manage.

The question Vimal Sharma poses is: who is there to help and support heads in struggling schools? The answer is that around the country it is a lottery whether or not headteachers are supported appropriately. I don't agree that "local directorates ... are dead organisations", but they are expected to pass on government pressure for improved test results to schools and this can result in aggressive behaviour towards the people who take most responsibility for the school and its pupils.

No amount of "leadership training" will support heads who are at the end of their strength if governors do not understand their responsibilities and if local directorates' only educational agenda is to raise "standards" as quickly as possible. I believe Ofsted should continue in its inspectorial and diagnostic role: schools need detached outside analysis. But Vimal Sharma is right to say that schools need "treatment and nursing" to enable them to improve, and that this is now lacking.

There is a delicate balance in schools between the kinds of pressure and support needed to effect change. If outside agencies try to impose ready-made solutions without taking this into account, the headteacher will crumble first, and the rest of the school will follow soon after.

Heads are leaving their posts in droves, feeling that there is too much pressure and too little support, and experiencing a genuine conflict of ideology between their own professional, moral purpose and that which is demanded of them from politicians.

We need systems in place to ensure that tired heads are treated respectfully, listened to and given the help and support they ask for, not forced to accept formulaic interventions applied "because they have worked elsewhere".

Barbara Curry, Retired headteacher (now an educational consultant), Winchcombe, Gloucestershire.

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