Loyalty lesson from the boys in blue

9th February 2007 at 00:00
Imagine a school mid-inspection. The lead inspector is quizzing the deputy head about one of the school's initiatives while a second inspector listens in. The lead inspector detects something in the deputy's attitude.

Inspector 1: "Do I sense a certain note of disagreement here?"

Deputy (after a marked pause): "Well, a lot of money's been spent on it and I'm not sure where it's leading."

The two inspectors exchange glances. Later, the second inspector catches the deputy alone.

Inspector 2: "A word to the wise. I think I should tell you - if there's one thing the lead inspector can't stand it's disloyalty."

I watched this incident played out in a TV drama recently, except that it took place not in a school but in a police station, between senior CID officers and an outside review team. I was so intrigued by the issues it threw up and the similarity with what can happen in school that I forgot to focus on the rest of the programme.

It's a sad fact that any external inspection, by its very nature, will drive loyalty-testing wedges into the most robust organisation. And yet, loyalty is surely the glue that binds not just the leadership, but the whole team.

I was especially interested because I'd been reading a short book for new heads, How to be a Good Headteacher, by Mark Eales, education standards director in Doncaster and a former headteacher himself. Originally penned for his own local authority, his book is insistent upon the highest principles. The leader, he says, has a non-negotiable right to loyalty.

Disagreement is right and proper but must be kept behind closed doors.

All good deputies understand that, of course. And they also know, as Mr Eales goes on to point out, how to change a head's mind. I've never been sure how this is done, but it seems to involve a combination of osmosis, telepathy, alchemy and judicious use of the pregnant pause.

Incidentally, did you spot the flaw in that opening story? When the second inspector took the deputy aside ("A word to the wiseI") What did that say about his own loyalty to his chief?

Mark Eales's book is available to order from Waterstone's; price pound;5

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