Time to admit headteacher is a misnomer?

25th February 2005 at 00:00
Are you feeling pressured because you never seem to get your paperwork done? Are you finding that your working day gets longer and longer? Is your head spinning from constantly chasing your tail? You could be suffering from McCrone syndrome.

This syndrome is a relatively recent phenomenon and is unique to a certain sector of the teaching profession, namely senior managers in primary schools. What is interesting about the outbreak and spread of this ailment is that it is caused by others who do not suffer from it in any way. In fact, they seem not to be overly interested in it.

Take the happier band of primary teachers who have greeted the introduction of non-class contact time with great joy, and rightly so. "McCrone time" is far less of a mouthful, and as thus it has become known.

It is not for them to concern themselves with how this time is provided every week all year round, despite flu epidemics or other ailments. If a senior manager has to juggle workload and cover the class, then so be it.

If there is an in-service training day or a holiday on the day that a teacher usually has McCrone time, the same senior manager can expect to hear comments about having lost out that week. (I still have difficulty with the logic of that one.) Take, also, the high heid yins who formulate policy. We have been informed that no teacher should have McCrone time overlooked, even when no one will be in front of a class for anything like 23.5 hours because the teaching week consists of only two days. The phrase "swings and roundabouts" was used.

I'm sorry, but I don't understand. Which one am I on: the swing or the roundabout?

At a recent headteachers' day, with the revised promoted staff structure in mind, we were asked to discuss the role of the headteacher in the 21st century. In my group, it was not so much discussing as lighting the blue touch paper and standing well back. I think it was the question "What will headteachers start doing and what will they stop doing?" that set us off.

It is very difficult to get through to people who, while asking what we will stop doing, almost in the same breath, talk of the corporate role of the headteacher in leading the school's contribution to changing children's services, social inclusion, community planning, tackling crime and urban regeneration. These are the people who expect us to cover for teachers to ensure that they have their McCrone time.

It will take a significant mind-shift on the part of almost everyone to change the role of the primary headteacher if, as it seems, we are expected to become pivotal in integrating support for communities with our educational provision.

A good place to begin would be with those who have the power to shape our working lives through legislation and policy-making. If every good political idea results in change andor more work for schools, to be effectively led and managed by headteachers, we need more bodies on the ground to deliver what they want. Will HM Inspectorate of Education move on with us or will we be measured against a set of outdated performance indicators?

Parents would have to change their perceptions of what we do. If we moved to flexi-time to allow for time off in lieu of inter-agency meetings after school hours, would they still expect to see us at the drop of a hat? Who would take on the ever increasing role of counsellor in the school if we lose touch with the detail of children's lives while more time is devoted to the corporate agenda?

Most importantly, we would have to change the way that we see ourselves. It is almost inevitable that acceptance of a changed role would require us to move further away from the thing we enjoy most, direct interaction with children through learning and teaching.

Is it time that we admitted to ourselves that we are now managers and no longer teachers and that our title is a misnomer? I wonder what McCrone would say.

Joan Fenton is headteacher of Dyce Primary in Aberdeen

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