Leading with love, and common sense

3rd July 2015 at 01:00
Blogger John Tomsett offers a warm-hearted guide to headship

John Tomsett is a well-known blogger and the successful headteacher of Huntington School, a large comprehensive in York. He has read much of the best educational research of the past 10 years and uses this to reinforce what he has found to be true from his own experience in the classroom.

This Much I Know About Love Over Fear is one of the best books written in recent years about successful teaching and headship. Every chapter starts with an autobiographical event - mostly about Tomsett's childhood or attempts to become a professional golfer - before going on to describe what works in teaching (he is clearly a great English teacher) and leadership.

There is no one way to be a successful headteacher. Sir Michael Wilshaw often describes successful headteachers in terms of firm discipline - an idea that does not appear in this book. Tomsett has proved to himself that troublesome pupils can be kick-started into learning by other means - with food, for example, or metaphors that relate the subject to their lives.

This is the way that Tomsett works but it is not the only way. Having said that, I found myself agreeing with every one of the hundred or so conclusions he comes to, which are summarised at the end of each chapter. Here are my favourites:

l As a headteacher you are faced with many issues you could focus on. It is a good idea to choose just one - the quality of teaching - even if this means other issues get left behind.

l Good teaching depends on good relationships with your pupils.

l He is not that bothered with individual targets, as he explains: "Setting students grades as targets is deeply flawed. The subject leaders of our two most successful A-levels 'fessed up to me that they don't look at student targets. They don't consciously differentiate. They just teach to A* standard all of the time to all of the students."

l Focus on ongoing improvement of staff rather than summative judgements. Tomsett makes great use of filming lessons as a way for staff to learn small ways in which they can improve - however good they are to start with.

l People's energies are maximised when they feel loved and safe (hence the title of the book).

l If a good set of examination results is the best pastoral care for students from deprived backgrounds, then challenging all our students to become better readers and writers is a moral imperative.

l Free tea and coffee facilities in the staffroom isn't too much to ask.

Tomsett is a talented teacher who knows what works. He describes this in detail, which is why any teacher would find it helpful. He is driven by a moral purpose which stems from the experience of his childhood. The book is moving, full of humour and wisdom, and deserves to be widely read.

Barnaby Lenon is chairman of the Independent Schools Council and a former headmaster of Harrow School

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