Not worth the aggro, frankly

13th April 2007 at 01:00
Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy

A headteacher requires strong virtues - the ability to please all the people all the time, first class communication skills, the capacity to value equally all aspects of the school curriculum and sound sincere, talking with ease at staff meetings and accepting criticism, a toughened skin to deflect attacks, the diplomacy of Kofi Annan, the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job and, probably, having the longevity of Methusalah in order to have time to perform the interminable compendium of tasks - and not forgetting the nifty fingers of Spiderman to keep all the balls in the air.

Who'd want to be a headteacher? Everyone wants their pound of flesh - pupils and their parents, the local authorities, the Scottish Executive and not forgetting society at large. They have impossible expectations of headteachers, demanding that priority be given to whatever their needs are.

None of this is to forget the day-to-day running of a school and the enormous responsibilities of managing school children as well as teaching and non-teaching staff.

There is, without question, a shortage of quality candidates for headteacher vacancies. Yet the Scottish Executive says that there is no significant problem and the local authorities have accused heads of "scaremongering". Evidence on the ground, which is the only place that matters, is otherwise.

There are fewer applicants and still fewer of high calibre. Is there proof of this? Up to a point, yes. Anecdotal, anyway. A new head joins a school.

What are the priorities in the early days? This is one indicator of quality.

Several years ago, I had a brief foray into the health service and remembered being particularly impressed by a chief executive who, when she first took up post, prioritised meeting all her staff by organising an informal and private interview for everyone. It was time-consuming but very worthwhile. In doing this she avoided falling into the trap of speaking only to her fellow board members. Speaking individually to all staff gives a measure of a headteacher's willingness to listen. Many have never done so.

Teachers, though, are not surprised that fewer people apply for the top jobs. All teaching jobs have become more burdensome. Society in general is more chaotic, with schools caught in the fallout. Parenting skills, for instance, are faltering beyond belief, with children now more likely to be parked in front of the latest Playstation at a cost of pound;425 than they are to be read to.

It therefore stands to reason that, if classroom teachers are finding the fray more exacting, then the job of headteachers has also altered beyond recognition.

By the time you read this, you will probably have enjoyed your Easter holidays. If you are not a heidie, you may well have switched off entirely.

But if you are in charge of a school, you know that holidays only give temporary respite. That abject misery of a parent whose brazen offspring takes up far too much of a headteacher's time will still be carping and whining in the new term. He knows his rights and, although the school isn't doing a single thing right for his kids, he won't move them. He's enjoying the battles.

Being a headteacher is too accountable, too relentless, too complex and too visible; the salary is not commensurate with these demands. The Scottish Executive and the local authorities should encourage the voices of common sense, not marginalise them.

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