Watch the feet voting

5th May 2000 at 01:00
WHAT, in common parlance, is a superhead? Are they those Captains Courageouses who step into the breach to offer last-ditch leadership in a few high-profile but ailing schools? The final, forlorn hope before closure?

Should "superhead" be reserved for that still theoretical, administrative animal designed by the Government to take charge not of one school but a consortium of five or six? Not so much a headteacher as a head of heads, a one-man or one-woman action zone?

Or are the real superheads much more common? Are they to be found in hundreds of schools throughout the country working 60 hours a week alongside superteachers to perform their daily miracles? Without fuss or fanfare, getting on with the job of providing the leadership which secures for thousands of children a good start in life and prevents many more schools spiralling into decline?

As the testimony of many frontline heads - and the sheer bulk of our overflowing classified sections - underline this week, precisely what a superhead is hardly really matters. For no matter how you define those school managers at the pinnacle of the first division, they alone cannot hope to run successful schols without the support of permanent and motivateable staff. As one celebrated head put it this week (Friday magazine, page 10) schools cannot be turned around by a superhead and a succession of supply teachers.

Ensuring adequate numbers of good and willing teachers in every school is David Blunkett's responsibility. Paid training for new graduates is a positive (if belated) step towards better recruitment; threshold payments could also be an incentive to remaining in the profession if the process of obtaining them does not itself prove to be a disincentive.

Extra cash which targets some of the toughest areas through schemes like Excellence in the Cities also offers welcome support of a kind. But fundamentally, heads and teachers who are expected to overcome the levels of social disadvantage faced in many allegedly "failing" schools no longer feel they enjoy the support and understanding of a Labour government. Instead they feel beset, undermined and only too aware of the professional penalties threatened if they fail to achieve the targets imposed on them. It is not surprising, then, if many are voting with their feet and refusing the challenge.

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