Off with their heads!

28th January 2005 at 00:00
Behind every knighted headteacher are the staff who did the real work. Steve Devrell is on their side

I was speaking to someone recently who had worked for one of those modern phenomena, the knighted headteacher. Intrigued by this rather inflated honour, I asked what it was like to work for him. "I don't know," she replied. "We never see him!"

The response prompted me to do some research and it wasn't long before I found a familiar pattern to theses awards. This new breed of knight is usually someone who is thrust into a school to replace a head who was clearly not suitable for the job in the first place. Their task is to achieve that highly subjective objective of turning the school around. The school is perceived to be in some dark tunnel and our knight leads everyone into the light.

One thing the new head will not do, however, is teach. Their appearances in the classrooms are usually limited to cameo roles in the Professor Winston mode, smile a lot, say something vaguely amusing and then leave before anything kicks off.

When the transformation is complete, the head becomes Sir Humphrey Bumphrey or Dame Dorothy Whatsherface and they join the highly paid circuit of conference speakers to tell everyone how great they are. Of course, they are quick to announce that they couldn't have done it without their staff.

Too right they couldn't!

Let's look at the facts. Many of these so-called failing schools are located in deprived areas with a variety of social problems. MrMs Big arrives with the enthusiasm and energy that accompanies any new project and it must be said, a large and almost infinite amount of money to change the Kiln room into a 200-seater theatre or the sick bay into a sports centre.

They may well inherit a disillusioned staff, but they also inherit a staff worried about their jobs, so they will do whatever it takes to secure their futures. The first thing the head always does is change the uniform. It is almost the first change in a bloody revolution that sees many members of staff put to the sword, only to be replaced by bright young things who would have the head's name tattooed on their lower back if they were asked to. Money is splashed around in every crevice and the school recovers. Sir Humphrey and Dame Dorothy pick up their honour and scarper to a world of Admiration and Inspiration.

The teachers, the ones who really made it all possible, are left behind with their perspiration to perspire further. And what do the teachers get? Well, the odd MBE has been given for those who keep their head down and survive for half a lifetime. Or if you are really lucky, you might receive an embarrassingly patronising Oscar presented from someone in Hollyoaks who still remembers Mr Kirkpatrick, his English teacher. "The award for the most outstanding young ICT teacher in a junior school with a separate dining room goes to ... '

We don't want to be patronised, we want to be recognised, and as long as the classroom teacher is happy to accept meaningless awards and is happy to accept it on behalf of their husband, their colleagues and of course the children (pause for a bleary-eyed moment,) we are going to remain the paper-round profession.

Teachers deserve to be paid well and recognised fully for the work they are doing in a challenging society. We need tangible re-wards, not an ornament for the mantelpiece or visits to the palace. And, above all, let's make education an equal status profession where no one is seen to be benefiting at the expense of others. Only then will many of the dissatisfactions that are current in this profession disappear.

Steve Devrell has been teaching for 32 years. He is currently the business and behaviour manager at a Solihull junior school

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