“Bully-boy” tactics create a “climate of fear” – dispirited heads blame government policies and carping by ministers, media and Ofsted

Janet Downs's picture
More than half of secondary heads are considering leaving teaching according to a joint TES* and Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) survey. The reason: government policies. TES quoted one head, ‘The constant negative rhetoric flowing from Gove and Wilshaw is the most damaging to morale I have ever known.’ The Department for Education disagrees saying the survey is not representative and that the government has freed schools from ‘unnecessary red tape and central diktats’. But Brian Lightman, ASCL general secretary, says his ‘members are facing a "barrage of criticism" and feel they are "on the verge of being bullied".’

One head, Stephen Ball, who turned round a struggling Burnley secondary school in the 1990s and has ‘led several more schools with distinction’, told TES that in the present climate he was not sure he could repeat his success. An interim inspection which took place two years after his arrival at the Burnley school approved what he and his staff were doing. However, he fears that a ‘comparable inspection [today] would condemn the school for performing at levels below the national average’ and Ofsted inspectors would “bundle” him into the group of 5,000 head teachers that Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, says are not good enough. Ball says teachers should receive unequivocal support and not be pilloried for pointing out that running schools in challenging circumstances is difficult: “It is intellectually feeble to blame teachers for making “excuses”; life in poor urban communities is not the same as it is in the prosperous villages of rural Middle England.’ An overwhelming majority of heads agreed with Ball – nine out of ten believe the government is not supportive of the teaching profession. And rather than backing Government’s strategies to improve standards, 61% of heads think the government’s education policies will worsen them.

Over six in ten of the heads were not as happy in their jobs as they had been twelve months ago and 73% of deputy/assistant heads said they were less likely to consider applying for a headship than had been the case a year before. This is leading to a potential recruitment crisis. 28% of headteacher vacancies in 2010-11 had to be re-advertised and difficulties in recruiting good heads will be particularly acute for challenging schools – the price of failure is viewed as too high. A deputy head told TES, ‘I’ve seen really good heads who have, because of difficult circumstances, not been able to turn a school around. People you would call superheads who, because of a particular environment, can’t make it happen. It’s a tough job… It’s a really invigorating job, but being criticised by your bosses in public is so negative. You read the papers every day, and there’s something else criticising the profession. It feels like bullying.’

Wilshaw said shortly after becoming Chief Inspector, ‘If anyone says to you that staff morale is at an all-time low, you know you are doing something right.’ It appears he has got what he wished for – disheartened heads and demoralised deputies. It doesn’t bode well for education in England.

*Not available on-line

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Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 26/03/2012 - 18:09

More negative reporting from the DfE about secondary school admissions. Mr Gibb started his press release by giving the number of children who didn’t get their first place option rather than the overwhelming number, six in seven, who did.

He glossed over the fact that just short of 96% of children were offered a place in one of their top three preferred schools to say how the Government has allowed popular schools to expand so that more children will get their first choice in a good school.

This is just the thing to encourage aspiring heads to apply to lead unpopular schools with a view to turning them round. If the head knows that a neighbouring popular school will be able to let in more pupils thereby making the unpopular school even less popular, then s/he isn’t going to risk a career by gambling on being able to woo pupils back. It’s never explained, however, where the popular school will put the extra pupils – larger classes, perhaps? Or plonk a few temporary classrooms on the playing field? Or hope that the Government will look kindly on the expanding school and award it capital for a new building?

Meanwhile, less money will go to the unpopular school which will be locked in a cycle of decline.


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