What keeps me awake at night - A tale of two headteachers

6th April 2012 at 01:00

Headteacher number 1 knew the name of every child in the school. He greeted them each morning and they told him about their weekends and showed him sport trophies.

Head Number 1 struggled to keep up to date with his paperwork. With his office door always wide open, he was constantly interrupted by children bringing him good work, dinner ladies looking for a chat and notes from teachers.

Head Number 1 loved being in the classroom. He would drop in to admire artwork, hear poems or join in a maths game. If a teacher was off sick or needed time out of class, he would take over at a moment's notice, doing an impromptu maths lesson or science experiment.

He trusted his staff and encouraged creativity. If a teacher told him they were cancelling maths to go outside and make a snowman, his reply was: "Good plan. Have a nice time."

When a child hadn't hit their targets, he discussed the reasons why. He made comments like, "He's not quite got there this year, but that's understandable as his parents are divorcing. Besides, hasn't he improved at cricket?"

Ofsted came and said it was happy. It said Head Number 1 could do some more paperwork. Head Number 1 retired and Head Number 2 came along.

Head Number 2 knows the names of only a handful of children, but the levels of all. When he talks to children, it's to ask them if they know their targets, or whether their teacher has explained work clearly enough.

Head Number 2 is always up to date with his paperwork. He regularly gives his staff spreadsheets and charts that show colour-coded level projections for all the children. He has told teachers not to send him children with behavioural problems until "it's so serious that the police are involved".

Head Number 2 often comes into classrooms. Always accompanied by his clipboard, he will watch unsmilingly for a few minutes, but without saying a word to the teacher.

Head Number 2 never teaches. Soon after he arrived, a teacher asked if he wanted to read some of the children's stories. "When you've marked and levelled them, you can send a selection to my office" was the reply.

He rarely praises staff, but passes criticisms down through senior management. He has regular pupil attainment meetings with teachers, telling us that problems at home cannot be taken into consideration when getting levels up. Head Number 2's staff feel unappreciated, demoralised and permanently on edge.

Ofsted came and said it was still happy. It added that Head Number 2 was an inspirational leader and suggested that middle management should toughen up and become more like him.

That's what keeps me awake at night.

The writer is a primary school teacher in the West Midlands. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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