Who wants to step forward and lead? Anyone?

31st May 2013 at 01:00

Recent letters about the deepening problems generated by the pressure placed on school leaders reflect the long-term lack of psychological awareness among politicians and policymakers of leadership and accountability in our schools.

The continuing lack of suitable candidates for school leadership posts remains no surprise while principals are being asked to put their careers on the line each time they are visited by England's schools inspectorate Ofsted. This debate would benefit from insights from depth psychology, as there are powerful unconscious influences at work here.

Principals have increasingly come to embody our aspirations for successful lives and our hopes for a happier society, as they supposedly have the power and authority to realise these by raising levels of achievement and guiding students into more mature, compassionate and responsible ways of operating. In this sense we project on to principals a kind of "ideal parent" figure, so when they "let us down" by not being "good enough" - as measured by an inspection - we cannot bear this and they have to be replaced by someone else who can, perhaps, become the idealised school leader we are looking for.

It is the adults - parents, politicians and media commentators - who are caught up in this projection rather than the students, who have to deal with the understandably high levels of anxiety of their teachers about how their school is judged.

We need to move on from this equation and come up with a more reasonable set of expectations for principals and teachers. This does not mean we should refrain from looking at where they do, or do not do, things well. Rather, we should stop seeing schools as the panacea for all that is faulty or inadequate about society, and therefore the repository for our own inadequacies when they do not live up to our unrealistic expectations.

Phil Goss, Senior lecturer in counselling and psychotherapy, School of Health, University of Central Lancashire.

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