You see it as a "child-centred" school with a "culture of care" that "fits the curriculum around the child". They see it as a "cloning machine" and a "boring factory".
A survey by academics at Queen's university in Belfast confirms what many teachers have long suspected: there is a world of difference between headteachers' jargon-filled rhetoric and what pupils really think about school.
"The important thing is we look to the individual," boasted one head, only for his pupils to let the side down by comparing the school with a monster, a factory, and a computer processor.
The study asked 60 pupils across five secondary schools to draw a picture of what their school would be "if it wasn't a building".
One head, who flourished his school's motto, "learning, caring, preparing for life", got his comeuppance when a Year 11 drew a big black hole. "I didn't feel part of anything," she told researchers.
Another drew a conveyor belt overlooked by an all-seeing eye.
While many heads laboured under the delusion that their schools were pupil-friendly, children felt their efforts were "negligible", concluded the study, published in next month's Improving Schools journal.