Why are so many heads rolling?
Anastasia De Waal, 9 March 2009
On Friday the Times Educational Supplement brought to our attention the numbers of secondary school head teachers removed from their posts last year: a staggering 150. The article claims that it is generally heads of challenging schools not ‘turning their schools around fast enough’ who have suffered. Surely with this kind of ‘pro-active’ behaviour the British state school system should be safely on its way to excellence. However, some might say this sudden proliferation of head teachers losing their jobs is deeply alarming.
No doubt a share of these dismissals will have been fair and parents will be grateful for attention being given to improving schools. Nevertheless, on closer inspection a strategy of ruthless dismissal is arguably not the wisest of solutions. One of the primary concerns is that the government’s approach to education has become too target driven, leading to unrealistic expectations. The cost of putting too much pressure on heads and teachers to produce results is significant, with children paying the highest price. Not only are children taught ‘to the exam’ with the rest of their developmental needs – not to mention rest of the curriculum – being neglected, standards in real terms are likely to drop with grades being bumped up and exam boards rising to the demand with increasingly easier papers. Worst of all these distortions will be masked by ‘high’ grades.
Turning around a school requires more than simply improving results, as any good head teacher knows. Skills, knowledge, love of learning and respect for each other are things which take time for children to develop, progressing through experiences and processes, not from being force fed information by uptight teachers terrified of losing their jobs. To imagine that children cannot see through the system is perhaps the biggest mistake of all. Meaningful change cannot occur overnight and school leaders must be allowed time and support to implement necessary changes.
Dismissal is hugely detrimental to a teacher’s career. This country cannot afford to lose experienced and competent teachers, particularly those who are willing to take on challenges. Rather than being excluded from the system they should be given additional support, mentoring, and if necessary, re-training to meet the specific needs of their current environment.
It is time for the government to start asking the trickier question of why it is so many state schools have become such hostile environments. Jeopardising children’s education through poorly constructed target driven systems, whilst underestimating the difficulties faced by head teachers, will only deter talented and dedicated teachers from taking up some of the most important teaching positions.
By Emily Dew