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Headteachers’ Non-Negotiables are Forcing Teachers to Quit

In my experience, progress in books seems to be a very low priority for some of these so-called “superheads”, says The Fake Headteacher...

  • Headteachers’ Non-Negotiables are Forcing Teachers to Quit

Over the last five years I’ve seen many excellent, experienced teachers leave the profession. Many who haven’t left regularly talk about how to leave. Those who can’t leave complain about their jobs.

I’ve witnessed brilliant teachers take long periods of sick leave due to stress and anxiety. I’ve seen caring headteachers develop health problems because the job has evolved in a manner they struggle to sustain.

In fact, in the last three schools I’ve worked in, I’ve heard more teachers complain and grumble about the job than ever before.

When I started teaching 20 years ago, I can’t remember anyone moaning about the job. Everyone was happy and the work-life balance was good. We regularly met up socially and the atmosphere in school was positive.

I’ve been clinging on by my fingertips myself in recent years. Sadly, a new breed of ‘superhead’ started at one of my previous schools, sending most staff into a spiral of depression and anxiety.

I define this particular type of headteacher as one who is only interested in improving data and exam results, whatever it takes. They bring with them a long list of demands, non-negotiables and pages of ‘conformity’ lists to adhere to.

So, what’s changed since I started in this profession? Non-negotiables are probably one of the most damaging aspects of current management styles. In order for a head to prove their impact on the school, they introduce long checklists, then regularly look to see if you are implementing everything.

I regularly get sent examples of these demands on social media from fellow teachers. In one school, the new head introduced a 20-point checklist. Staff had to show evidence of completing each item on the list during three unannounced learning walks each half term.

They were told that if they failed to cover all 20 items, they’d be put on a coaching programme. Unsurprisingly, the unions are heavily involved.

I have personally experienced a ‘superhead’ who told us all that we had to use his new planning sheet which involved writing three learning objectives for three separate groups.

He banned whole-class teaching input, saying that this would be too easy or too hard for some of the children. We were told we had to immediately split pupils into groups so that learning was always directed at the correct level.

The teaching assistant was required to teach one of these groups. When most of us found it hard to implement, coaching programmes were set up and some staff were threatened with capabilities.

And where did learning walks suddenly spring up from? I understand the rationale behind them, but more often than not they are simply used as a way of policing these long lists of non-negotiables.

If these superheads see something they don’t like in the ten minutes they walk around your class, you’re told off and are then more likely to have more visits to check you are doing everything right.

It’s a similar story with book scrutinies. Teachers are spending more time ensuring they’ve included the necessary things that need to be stuck or written in books.

When was the last time your book scrutiny feedback started with, “Amazing progress from the pupils – well done. Your teaching has obviously had a positive effect on the class”?

In my experience, progress in books seems to be a very low priority for some heads.

What these types of leaders tend to focus on is whether the LO was stuck in and the date written. Did you give feedback three times last week? Was peer feedback given? Is there evidence of you using purple pens, highlighters and feedback stampers?

Luckily, the headteacher at my new school is fantastic and has very sensible, manageable policies (even though it’s a ‘requires improvement’ school).

If it wasn’t for this recent experience, which has restored my faith in good leadership, I have no doubt that I too would have left teaching.

Teacher autonomy and trust has almost disappeared. Unless headteachers start valuing these attributes again, I worry that many good teachers will continue to leave.

The Fake Headteacher has taught in five schools across a 20 year career. Find out more at headteacher-newsletter.com and follow on Twitter at @fakeheadteacher.

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