Headteacher required. Would suit grown-up

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
There are rarely any laughs in the TES Jobs section, but here's one from the March 18 issue: "The governors wish to appoint an emotionally mature and passionate advocate for children's learning..." Emotionally mature? Those of us who weekly scan the headteacher ads are used to the same phrases recurring: "caring, dedicated, professional..." "an inspirational leader..." "a committed individual..." "a dynamic visionary..." Governors everywhere seek enthusiasm, high expectations, energy. And just occasionally they slip in something that sets their school apart: one advert seeks applicants who are "wise", another asks for "flair"; but surely unique is the northern primary school whose first requirement was for a grown-up.

What terrible experiences lie behind this request? Do these governors know the headteacher of my acquaintance who peppers her school newsletter with exclamation marks? In pairs!! In threes, and even fours!!!! Sometimes mixed with question marks!??! Her schoolgirl giggle rang out merrily at a recent conference as she told me over coffee how she regularly makes her deputy cry.

Another head once called me over to a window and pointed to three of her teachers who were chatting and laughing at the school gate. "Look at that," she spat, "talking about me again." Once she tried to cancel the school's participation in the district athletics festival because she didn't like the mother of one of the boys chosen to take part.

Daily trading jokes with six-year-olds, presenting a world view with a broad brush and in child-friendly language, always being the leader, is perhaps not the best way of developing emotional maturity. I am wrong to poke fun at the governors who want an emotionally mature head, for the school whose head treats her staff like an infant class is never happy or effective. But still...

Kipling's "If" is the nation's favourite poem, apparently, and a self-proclaimed guide to being an adult. So here goes: "Dear Chair of Governors, I have considerable practice at keeping my head while all about are losing theirs and blaming it on me; at the end of every month I make one heap of my salary and risk it all on one turn of pitch and toss; when I walk with kings I do not lose the common touch, and on Friday nights I like to drink rum, play poker and swear lots."

The interview panel will sit with the person specification in front of them, pens hovering over the grid box next to "emotional maturity". "Mr Cosgrove," the chair fixes me with a steely eye, "suppose your wife has an affair with three members of staff simultaneously. Would you, a) poison the staffroom coffee, b) hold a special assembly at which you explain to the children why all the people involved will rot in hell, c) put it down to experience, and invite the secretary of the PTA out for a drink?"

"And how," cuts in the LEA officer coldly, "would you respond to someone who takes the mickey out of your press ads?"

John Cosgrove

John Cosgrove is deputy head of St Mary's RC primary school, Penzance, Cornwall

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