Look! Is it a bird? A plane? No...

31st March 2000 at 01:00
We are living in the age of the superhero. Bill Gates and the Internet will turn the world on its head. Superleagues will kill local sport, leaving the punter to watch his superidols on the box. A supermum can have a career as an astronaut and still be back in time to pick up the weans.

In public life too, the messianic figure with the quick fix can be seen as a panacea to reassure twitchy citizens. A drugs czar and a hospital supremo can conjure the comfortable illusion that all will be well as soon as a latter-day Hercules addresses the task. Inevitably, we also have superheads, who can reputedly breeze in, turn a school from hell-hole to paragon of excellence, and fly off before you can say "systematic evaluation".

The fact that three superheads south of the border have decided to move on to new superjobs after 18 supermonths reveals the irrelevance of the entire concept. The business of managing a school can barely be initiated in 18 months.

The business culture of today, with head-hunting and cut-throat competitiveness, encourages employees to tout their skills to the highest bidder, and to sell out when the next "career development opportunity" is dangled. To commit to a single employer betrays a lack of competetive edge.

The pendulum has swung from excessive permanence, which can create complacency, to a "house-of-cards" mind-set, in which the superhero swoops in withthe solution. Systems are put in place, boxes are ticked, corridors are painted, ministers are invited, before the superhead zooms off on the next catalytic conversion job.

What is lacking in this scenario is the painstaking creation and fostering of relationships with pupils, staff, parents and the community. The headteacher's profile in the community has to win the confidence of the troops, in the merits of the individual, and of the school. The community sees school personified in headteacher.

Pupils require time to discern what the head considers important and to learn his tolerance limits. Teachers need to discern whether the head has substance.

The notion of the superhead is alien and unhelpful to schools. Most headteachers resist the concept and shun the flimsy kudos of the superstar. Real heroes are headteachers like Alex Goodall, who has stuck with Wester Hailes through thick and thin.

Alex has been well respected by Edinburgh colleagues over 17 years in his job. His esteem with the local authority could have snared him a leafier, more academic environment, but he chose to hang in there with the children of Wester Hailes, where free meal entitlement is among the highest in Edinburgh.I could list others, who eschewed superstatus for dedication. But I must finish now and take my daily kryptonite.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher at Holy Rood High, Edinburgh


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