Skip to main content

We no longer swear by the deeds of Gordon

Geoff Barton is head of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

It may be time to accept that Gordon is not quite the role model we had thought.

There's an increasing feeling that he's lost his touch, that his legendary attention to detail has deserted him, a sense of his empire beginning to crumble. Then, of course, there's his filthy language.

So, of the famous Gordons we know, Mr Ramsay is no longer the one we aspire to be. Last weekend newspapers were full of his impending downfall. Harden's restaurant guide has fallen out of love with him. One of his most prestigious restaurants at The Connaught is to shut in December. And he has been outed for boasting that catching a sea bass made him feel like an "action man" a description he garnished with a typically fruity adjective.

Gordon Ramsay exemplifies the kind of macho leadership that was fashionable in the short-lived superhead era of New Labour. At the first whiff of a failing school, a battle-scarred headteacher was parachuted in. Success proved a little more elusive than in Lenny Henry's BBC1 portrayal in Hope and Glory. It clearly takes more than shiny new desks and assemblies delivered over gushing strings. But the Ramsay approach remains potent for some school governors. Thus a successful school takes over a less successful one in a kind of franchise arrangement and the head is suddenly recast in the role of executive chef, travelling between kitchens to taste the consomme and bark expletives.

Meanwhile, the honeymoon for the other famous Gordon goes on, exemplifying a very different style of leadership. Whatever the gods throw at Mr Brown and so far it's included floods, plague (of the farmyard variety) and whispers of financial meltdown he pushes robustly on. Whoever said that the problem with Brown is that he's all substance and no style was spot on.

Now he has the chance to show the kind of courage he wrote so passionately about in his recent book, because here in the throes of the party conference season as the Liberal Democrats have shown us this week it's easy to announce another wacky wheeze designed to raise school standards.

Instead, we would like the BrownBalls combo to resist new initiatives and trust the professions. This doesn't mean leaving education to teachers. We deceive ourselves like would-be sea bass catchers if we think any Government would do that without wanting to hold us accountable. No, they should improve the basics while creating the conditions for good teachers to inspire young people stultified by a curriculum straitjacket then let us get on with it.

As a profession we should be loudly lamenting and tackling the scandal that around half of our 16-year olds still leave school without the handful of decent GCSE grades that signal basic employability. We could do that, accountable to a small number of national targets, but given the trust, flexibility and freedom to innovate.

Then we would use rather fewer Ramsay-style expletives and instead understand the Chinese proverb: "Of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, the people will say, 'We did it ourselves.'"

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you