Heads and tales;Reviews;Resources

24th September 1999 at 01:00
TALKING HEADS. Channel 4 staff development programme. Wednesday, September 29. 5.30-6am. Rpt November 11, 11.30am-12. Video pound;9.99.

Five headteachers talk separately to an unseen interviewer. In the background we catch frustrating glimpses of the schools they come from - a highly regarded inner-London primary, two successful inner-London secondaries, a flourishing comprehensive in leafy St Albans and (a token non-London school, perhaps?) an integrated primary in Londonderry.

The heads have been questioned about aspects of the role - their route to headship, the skills and qualities it takes, the difference between management, leadership and vision, the pressures, challenges and satisfactions. Their edited answers are rapidly cross-cut from speaker to speaker.

The programme makers say it is designed to stimulate discussion among teachers - particularly, one presumes, potential candidates for headship. Except at a merely superficial level, though, it is too thin for that. Half an hour is too short to cover meaningfully the range of issues presented. Besides, the format and the close-up camera angles invite us to concentrate more on the personalities than on issues.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, of course. There are five interesting and impressive people here. Any one of them, talking about all these issues in the context of the school they lead, would have given us something to grapple with. The five of them together, talking about any one of the topics, would have done the same. But we have to be content with no more than glimpses of what really matters.

It would have been helpful, for instance, to have heard more from Alasdair Macdonald and Keith Ajegbo about raising expectations and performance in their inner-London schools. How, for instance, do you create a climate where, as Alasdair says, "it's cool to achieve"? I wanted to hear more from Pat Clark about the space for risk-taking she found in her second primary headship - the move, as she puts it, from asking "why?" to asking "why not?" I wanted too to question Janet Lewis more closely about the particular challenge of taking over a very successful school. And I wanted Keith Ajegbo to tell more about the importance of being not just a headteacher, but a teaching head.

Perhaps these issues are developed in the Net notes the producers promise by transmission time. One problem remains, though. Not even programme notes can address the fact that none of these heads, up-beat and optimistic as they necessarily are, could tell us about what Janet Lewis calls accountability and Anne Murray from Londonderry calls "taking the flak". I suspect it is a crucial aspect of the job, but one you can only really describe in the context of a particular place and school. Heads who try to do that on television are unlikely to survive.

The value of this programme, perhaps, is that it highlights the very real satisfactions. In the current climate that is certainly worth doing.

Michael Duffy

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