Perhaps it was the Lord's way of saying, 'Kent, when you achieve headship, never do an assembly like this'

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
Headship is a funny thing. You're the lord of your manor, with control over everything that happens in it. It's an awesome responsibility and needs to be thought about often, lest you fall into the trap of thinking you're omnipotent, and that way disaster lies. I've known many headteachers in my career; some I've admired, some I've had lively debates with, and the behaviour of a few has ranged from mildly eccentric to... well, giving cause for concern. I've worked for a couple in the latter group.

The first was a very dull gentleman. People fell asleep in his staff meetings. As a young, enthusiastic teacher, I couldn't believe how tedious his assemblies were. We'd file into the hall, and Mrs Simpson would thunder out "All Things Bright and Beautiful", the efficacy of her playing depending on whether the string holding the pedals together survived her energetic footwork. We'd have the Lord's Prayer, a telling-off because a school rule had been broken, and out we'd go again. It was an utterly pointless 20 minutes. Thinking about it now, perhaps it was the Lord's way of saying: "Kent, when you achieve headship, never do an assembly like this."

His limited teaching career can't have been inspiring, either; if teachers were ill and he was forced to take a class, he'd always do the same lesson - graphs illustrating the children's favourite animals, colours, or anything. Once, when we were desperately short-staffed and I was due at a swimming gala, he offered to teach my children, asking if there was anything particular I'd like him to do. "You could draw some graphs of their favourite outings," I suggested. "Good idea!" he said.

The second head had a thing about lost property. Brought up in an age of greater austerity, he expected children to label their clothing and belongings and keep track of them at all times. Occasionally, he'd find a single plimsoll or glove in the corridor, and in assembly the children would be told to check whether they were in possession of a full set of limbs, because he failed to see how any idiot could walk around with only one shoe on. By half term, the lost property pile had grown relentlessly and he'd bring it into assembly, holding each piece at arm's length like a dead fish. Nobody would claim anything, of course, and when really upset he'd been known to toss much of it out of his office window, where it adorned the branches of a tree in the playground until the schoolkeeper removed it with a skilfully aimed rake.

But these paled beside the head a friend worked for. He disliked children and spent much of his time avoiding them - which wasn't difficult because his room was in the bowels of the building, adjacent to his en suite washroom. His school life was divided between meetings and riding his horse on Hampstead Heath. On a fine day he would frequently come to assembly clad in jodhpurs and riding jacket, and the staff knew there would be no point in trying to find him that afternoon. Apart from his horse, his greatest pleasure was his deputy, with whom he was having a relationship, and occasionally they'd duet in assembly - she on the piano, him singing. On the first occasion, children and staff were stunned into disbelieving silence, which the couple took to be appreciation. This rapidly waned when the concerts increased in frequency, until, one morning, the performance was halted and the head rose to his full 5ft 2in. "Your attention span is on a par with a tin of maggots," he roared. Then he stormed out of the hall. I wonder what Ofsted would have made of him.

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.

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