Much of the morning mail can go in the bin, especially the stuff addressed to the 'managing director' or the 'chief buyer'

28th February 2003 at 00:00
I'm amazed by the number of primary headteachers who never teach. After all, they must have started in the classroom, and if they hated the job, presumably they'd have left to become chartered accountants or something.

It's as if, having reached the elevated position of headship, they never feel the urge to teach again. The less they teach, the less they want to, until the point is reached where any excuse is trotted out to avoid contact with children. Here are the common ones...

1. Sorry, I'm snowed under with paperwork. Of course, the pile of mail each morning can be large, but much of it can go in that finest filing cabinet of all, the bin, especially the stuff addressed to "the managing director" or "the chief buyer", from firms that haven't a clue what a school is.

Other mail will be from the DfES or the local authority, often a questionnaire thought up by some bright spark with two hours to kill before lunch, or the latest ethnic codes for the computerised pupil returns, now running to a total of 8,243 and could you input them all by Friday please.

A shrewd head can whizz through the post in minutes. Or give it to the secretary.

2. Sorry, I've got to rush off to a meeting. These heads are never in school. Their schools are often falling apart while they're attending meetings about driving up standards. They attend every possible cluster meeting, working party or steering committee, and have lots to say because they are practised at Parkinson's Law tactics - making sure nothing is resolved because the meeting can spawn further meetings. Courses are even better, particularly if it's a three-day jaunt at a seaside hotel, paid for out of the Standards Fund, to listen to an obscure expert expounding on balancing perspectives in the divergent curriculum. When they return to school, any chaos can be blamed on the deputy and other senior managers.

After all, they've got to practise for headship.

3. Sorry, I have to finish the behaviour policy. This is the typist head.

The one who sits at his or her computer all day producing endless documentation for staff to read. It's all written at great length and, yes, I'd love to see a child but I simply haven't time. You can't get in to see this head. Parents book appointments weeks ahead. I've even known a typist head who had a light outside her room which would change from green to red.

If you knocked when it was red, you'd had it as far as promotion was concerned, and it only went green at 10.45am, when it was time for a helper to wheel in tea and a cream bun.

4. Sorry, I've got important visitors. Useful excuse. Schools often have visitors, ranging from the attendance officer or prospective parent, to a school governor or inspector. The inspector is a useful visitor as you can keep him chatting for ages and no one will come anywhere near you. I remember a visit from a pompous inspector soon after I'd got my headship. I was at the top of a ladder painting the hall walls and I suggested he roll his sleeves up and give me a hand. He only stayed 20 minutes.

Heads who retreat from the chalkface are missing out on the real pleasure of the job. Even after 21 years, I consider my contact with children essential, and I teach the equivalent of a day and a half every week. I wouldn't change it for the world.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark. Email: mikejkent@aol.com

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