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Being a Headteacher Means Making Hard Decisions – and Facing Criticism Whatever Option you Take

You can’t please all of the people, all of the time – but stop the press: as a school leader, it can sometimes feel impossible to please any of ‘em, ever...

  • Being a Headteacher Means Making Hard Decisions – and Facing Criticism Whatever Option you Take

I have always been quite clear that the jobs in our school with the most relentless hard work attached to them are head of year/house, and head of ‘big’ subjects such as English, maths, science etc – especially now, as we face both a recruitment crisis, and changes in syllabi and external assessment.

As a headteacher, there are obviously pressures, too – made even more significant by the current spin and deceit about the under-funding of schools.

However, it is rare that you see a head of English in the Daily **** (I cannot bring myself to type it, sorry) or berated by the increasingly unsupportive BBC for a decision they have made or tried to enforce.

I know my position may be different from many of my colleagues, in that we had a few TV cameras around quite a few years ago, but it seems mad that to be a headteacher faced with a whole-school decision, you have to think, “What will this look like splashed across a newspaper?”

The white stuff

I have seen numerous colleagues have stories written about decisions they have made that never go as far as outright accusations, but have a passive aggressive tone that’s pretty horrible to read, let alone be the subject of. Let me give you a couple of examples that have happened to me:

Snow is a disaster for heads. It is simply a lose, lose situation. Passmores is situated on the intersection of two very busy roads, which are the first to be cleared by sheer weight of traffic if they haven’t been targeted for gritting.

I have the vast majority of staff living close by. They are the unchanging facts. There is also an ethos driven aspect: I think it is our job to be open if possible, in order to allow our parents/carers to get to work etc.

Now, just because we are open, that does not mean that everyone can get to school. Everyone’s journey is different, and I fully respect that the final decision on whether or not it is safe for individual students to travel must rest with them and their families.

In remaining open, though, I think I am taking the community supportive decision. The right decision.

Well, this year was an all-time low. I got threatened, and called some truly horrific things, including publicly on Twitter. I was even told opening Passmores was tantamount to child abuse. I am not joking!

Uniform behaviour

My second example is the dreaded uniform decisions that end up being put on to the inside pages of national newspapers on slow news days (normally at the start of a term).

It is always difficult, because whatever you think of uniform policies, if a school has one – and it’s well publicised to families, and reasonable from a cost perspective – it really does need to be enforced, as fairly and consistently as possible.

But doing so can attract vitriol from all sides! Obviously a parent or carer selling their story to a paper gets them some cash and means that the school can never truly rebut the story.

Our job is to protect the children in our care, and getting into a public row with their family is probably not going to do that. So we take it on the chin in the knowledge that it will soon be yesterday’s news – but it really doesn’t feel nice.

And then there are the well-meaning types who take to Twitter to expound on how uniforms aren’t necessary at all, and crush young people’s freedom of expression.

I would love to have the time and patience to sit down with them to explain that for some young people, uniform is the best thing about school.

It stops them being singled out for a whole range of reasons beyond their control; it’s the disguise that allows them to be just like everyone else, sometimes for the first time in their lives.

Those are just two examples. It seems to me that the list of those difficult decisions has grown over the last few years, with homework, social media, GCSE subjects offered etc all now becoming frequent sticking points, with the potential for unwanted media attention, to boot.

However, you know what? Regardless of what other people think about the choices I make, I’ve still got the best job in the world!

Follow Vic Goddard on Twitter at @vicgoddard.

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