Welcome consultants with cojones

11th July 2008 at 01:00
Ever feel school life is just one long meeting with consultants? Perhaps you're a middle leader working with national strategy consultants, a senior leader working alongside a school improvement partner (Sip) or some other local authority adviser
Ever feel school life is just one long meeting with consultants? Perhaps you're a middle leader working with national strategy consultants, a senior leader working alongside a school improvement partner (Sip) or some other local authority adviser. I often hear heads complaining about their Sip's lack of experience or the injustice of having a "failed" head as an adviser.

But, whether we like it or not, consultation is an integral part of daily life. Recently I found myself watching Mary Portas, the self-styled Mary, Queen of Shops, visiting failing fashion outlets and advising them on how to boost business. I watched fascinated as she entered into endless arguments with shop owners who refused to follow her advice because, they claimed, "I know my customers." That might be so, she said, but there were too few of them to make a profit.

I contrasted Portas's style with that of Gordon Ramsay whose Kitchen Nightmares is required viewing in my house. His style is far more abrupt and can be summarised as a contest over the size of the combatants' cojones. The restaurant owners quickly give up arguing with Ramsay, whatever their opinions, as the power of his personality always wins through.

Ramsay's advice often follows the same mantra: reduce the size of the menu; use good ingredients; and combine this with an innovative and energetic marketing campaign. In an idle moment, I tried to imagine Ramsay as a Sip. If you move beyond the machismo and apply his restaurant advice to schools, it is instructive. Slim down your curriculum, concentrate on one innovation at a time or even just do the simple things well; use good teachers; and, instead of flash prospectuses, simply tell everyone what the school does well. Perhaps then we could say, "School improvement ... done!" - though I'm sure many of you would rather use Ramsay's famous line from The F Word on your least favourite consultants or Ofsted inspectors.

Paul Ainsworth, Deputy head at Belvoir High School, Leicestershire.

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