When I became a head, the local inspector surprised me by saying I shouldn't stay at the school longer than three years. I liked it so much I stayed for 22

5th March 2004 at 00:00
Here's a simple question. A Year 2 child taking Sats could answer it. You embark on a school project. After a while you have to confront the truth. It's not working. More than that, it's hopeless, and everyone knows it. It's unlikely to improve and it's cost about pound;21 million so far. What do you do? You have 10 seconds to answer.

What did you say? Abandon it? Yes, I'd have thought so, but apparently the correct answer, if you work for the DfES, is "throw more money at it", particularly if it's to do with fast-track teaching.

According to the department, only 590 people have taken the bait since this scheme was introduced five years ago. Much of this vast sum has been spent on administration, but it still works out at almost pound;36,000 a teacher.

It's hardly surprising that the notion of fast track is so unappealing, both for those attempting it and those subjected to its results. Any competent head will tell you it takes at least three years for even a promising teacher to start developing into a highly skilled practitioner, but the famous educational ladder-climbers who witter from their lofty perches decided they knew better.

Education is littered with laughable whiz-kid ideas. Remember the initial teaching alphabet? Or the "real book" years, when children were supposed to learn to read by osmosis? (Working-class children, of course - you experimented with them because you could bewilder their parents with pseudo-educational jargon.) Then there was team teaching, which was great until a team member was away and you ended up on your own with 60 children.

When times-tables weren't allowed unless you incorporated them into bingo, or when spelling didn't matter? Remember smart targets, performance indices, mission documents, Picsiis and Pandas? Oh sorry, they're still with us.

This notion of moving on quickly has always scored higher marks in the promotion stakes than staying put, and I'm at a loss to understand it.

Presumably, staying means you're a stick-in-the-mud. But it can be argued that stability builds strength. When I became a head, the local inspector surprised me by saying I shouldn't stay at the school longer than three years. Take my advice, he said, move on quickly, get two or three headships under your belt, show what you can do in a couple of different situations, then become an inspector and move on. I pointed out that it might take me more than three years to turn my school into the sort of place I wanted it to be, and that if I enjoyed it and its environment I might not want to move. I also mentioned that becoming an inspector wasn't a personal goal, since I'd be too far away from the children. He seemed surprised that I could like teaching so much.

I did enjoy the school, so much that I've stayed for 22 years, and I've enjoyed battling against the dafter ideas that shower from above, the current contender being that we should treat our schools like businesses. A while ago a colleague attended a whole-day seminar for heads, entitled "Total quality management in our schools". A "management guru" had been engaged, at enormous expense, to lecture on funding and financing. "It is essential," the guru began, "to think of schools as businesses and to develop them as such." An experienced head said: "Sorry, that isn't possible." The guru smiled and asked why not. "Because," said the head, "we haven't yet thought of a way to get rid of our unprofitable lines."

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.

Email: mikejkent@aol.com

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