What keeps me awake at night - Gleeful governors love to trip me up

22nd April 2011 at 01:00
Anonymous views from education's front line

This week: the head of a primary school in the south of England

I entered school leadership feeling like an invulnerable combination of Bear Grylls and Ray Mears - parachuting into the wilderness, prepared, skilled and ready for the unexpected.

As a headteacher, I have had to learn pretty quickly the value of "support and challenge" from those joining me on the adventure.

The staff lend a subtle blend of pleasantry, effort and spite, but I know that deep down we share a commitment to the children that drives our collective will to succeed. Parents provide a potent cocktail of enthusiasm, expectancy and hatred (mixed with shots of apathy) but, again, are ultimately united by our sense of common purpose. And, of course, the children send out an eternal message of hope and inspiration when they are not demonstrating their amazing ability to stuff paper down the toilets. But governors ...

Maybe my school governors are the only ones to have crawled from the set of The Vicar of Dibley, but they would unsettle the boldest of adventurers.

Take "Ethel Lurgy", 84 years old with the (selective) memory of a magician's elephant: she remembers the school when it used to be good, under the direction of a headmaster who used to be effective, at a time when children used to "know their place". The very phrase "pupil voice" is an oxymoron to her.

How about "Bob", 50, whose waistline is the only thing larger than his opinions. This techno-savvy entrepreneur doesn't see the point of meetings, letters, minutes, or actual debate about school issues. He would write a letter of complaint about the need for governors if it wasn't for the fact that he knows he wouldn't read it, respond to it, take it seriously - or even open it.

Our chair of governors, however, is a new breed of anti-hero. Part house elf, part Cato from the Pink Panther movies, this gremlin-like assassin lies in wait, ready to expose every nuance of fallibility.

Once, he managed to break into the school during the two-minute window between me leaving the grounds and the caretaker locking the entrance, thus revealing my inept attention to safeguarding and security. He proudly revealed his findings during "any other business" at our full governing body meeting. Even Ethel managed a smile.

He also surprised me when I was recovering from a motorcycle accident. My two weeks off were " badly planned and inconsiderate", according to his letter, and my failure to announce the tombola results "in the tradition of our school" was "simply negligent". I could have used Skype from my hospital bed (according to Bob).

I should not complain. But I thank goodness for friends who are not of such critical disposition.

To tell us what terrifies you or to share the unscripted events that have happened in your classroom, email michael.shaw@tes.co.uk.

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