I don't know about ewe, but I'm off to the baa

8th May 2009 at 01:00

I'm standing blindfolded in a field along with several other teachers. The only one not wearing a blindfold (though obviously I can't confirm this) is Hermione, who is fast-tracking her way to headship, although I was sure she must be about 13. She has an Acme Thunderer whistle and is clearly frustrated by the inability of us slow-trackers to understand a code of whistle blasts only slightly less complicated than the structure of DNA.

In case you're wondering, I'm being trained to lead our Year 6 residential visit. The importance of outdoor education - and more crucially the avoidance of litigation as a result of someone tripping over and badly grazing their knee - cannot be overstressed. (Keep it under your safety helmet, but I've led the same visit for years with no fatalities.)

Our learning objective is to experience a range of activities from the children's perspective. Our success criteria are co-operation, negotiation and teamwork. And because every team needs a captain, Hermione appoints herself.

Under her leadership, we batter our way through the assault course, erect shelters out of dead branches and strips of torn canvas, complete a Sudoku, zip precariously along a wire several stomach-churning metres above the ground and, before we have time to count the bruises, arrive exhausted at our final activity - a team problem-solving challenge called the Shepherd and the Sheep. And because Hermione has already demonstrated outstanding leadership potential by out-volunteering everybody else, it's only right that she should be the shepherd. The rules are as follows:

1) Several sheep (teachers wearing blindfolds) are scattered randomly about a field.

2) One shepherd (Hermione with a whistle) must guide them into a pen.

3) Nobody is allowed to speak.

4) The sooner it's over, the sooner you can go for a pint in that nice country pub down the road.

Because the negotiating powers of sheep are limited, Hermione ignores our bleating and devises her own code of whistle blasts that will instruct even the least attentive sheep - I think she means me - when, where and in which direction to move.

Enjoying a day away from the frenzied world of unrealistic targets, implausible timetables and stress-related irritable bowel syndrome makes me think the last thing we need is a fast track. Primary schools were uncomplicated places before "education, education, education". But a political obsession with quantifying and micro-managing every aspect of school life has created an increased demand for leadership and a mass evacuation of experienced staff. Hence the need for a fast track.

I remember the days when a leadership team was a headteacher - who took assemblies, snuff and the occasional swig of Hennessy's - and a deputy. Now some primaries have more heads - executives, associates, deputies, assistants - than a mythological Greek monster.

Behind my blindfold, I imagine several Hermiones leading us like lambs to the slaughter. Panic sets in.

"Where are you going?" she cries.

"Baa-aar," I reply.

Steve Eddison, Key stage 2 teacher, Sheffield.

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