Had I not ventured into education, I like to think Hollywood script writing would have been a decent back up career.
Although nearly everyone involved in the film has now been disgraced, one of my favourite film scripts is Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects – Christopher McQuarrie won an Oscar for his 1995 original screenplay. In an additional stroke of genius, Kevin Spacey also won an Oscar for his portrayal of a small time criminal who turned out to be something far more sinister – who’d have thought it?
Recently, one of the film’s most iconic lines has come to me over and over again when reflecting on education at the moment. When explaining who the criminal warlord Keyser Soze is to the police, Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint says: The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.
I don’t know if it has been orchestrated and intentional, but it appears to me that the powers that be have colluded to create a scapegoat for the workload, recruitment and retention crisis – headteachers.
Repeatedly, it feels as if the narrative coming from the Department for Education, Ofsted and now even some of the unions is that teachers should look squarely at their school leaders for the state that education is in.
Too much planning and marking? Blame your headteacher. Too many data drops? Blame your headteacher. Stressed out by challenging children? Blame your (inclusive) headteacher. Too few teachers in your school? Blame your headteacher.
Don’t blame US – we haven’t asked for it; indeed, we have designed this lovely poster to help your headteachers reduce your workload and if they haven’t adhered to it, blame your headteacher.
It is as if the toxic and multi-layered accountability measures have nothing to do with them. Nor the changing curriculum, testing arrangements and exam specifications. Progress-8 and the E-Bacc isn’t forcing anyone’s hand in terms of curriculum design or children’s wider development. It must undeniably be your headteachers’ fault that salaries are frozen, that school funding has been effectively cut, particularly for SEN/D. The house price rises that make working in certain parts of the country impossible is just one of those things. The impact of ten years of austerity has had no real impact on the lives of our most vulnerable children and their families, and this never manifests in challenging behaviour. And of course, there is still loads of help out there for troubled children, no waiting list for CAMHs or anything like that. Of course, local authorities are just as effective and robust as they always were.
At a time when even Premiership football managers look relatively safe in their jobs, heads are disappearing at an alarming rate, and this never skews professional behaviour.
Of course we have to acknowledge that, as Heads, we do not always make the right decision. Indeed, on occasion, we are part of the problem. I would, however, rather the conditions for heads to be able to make sane and sensible decisions for their schools was prioritised. Trust us. Let us be brave. Empower heads to create happy, safe schools that improve over time rather than as a miraculous phoenix from the ashes. Stop incentivising immoral behaviours; reward inclusivity and heads that care and nurture all. Our schools are collectively better than the have ever been before, its time the foot was taken off our neck. And it is certainly time that the narrative, isn’t it?