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On the road

On the BBC’s morning news show, was a short spot about unruly school pupils. One of the issues that was raised by the presenter was the fact that in a lot of schools, headteachers do not really have a very strong idea of what goes on in the classroom. A bit later in the show, a female headteacher was asked about this and she said something to the effect of “Well, I am on the road a lot and out of the school attending conferences and so on, but I have children of my own”.


13 comments to On the road

  • Nailed.

    I hope someone gets this out on YouTube. This kind of Head is someone not only we do not need, but we are paying but not getting any real use out of. Is it her, or the State dragging her out to these “conferences”. What a lame excuse.

    I wonder how long it would take for her to realise if someone changed the locks on her office.

  • When I was in schools in the 1950s and 60s until 1968, the “Headmaster” did teaching in addition to his other duties. In both schools, he lived on the premises too, so there was no excuse for shirking.

    Mr C T Linford (B.A Cantab), of Downsend preparatory School for Boys, Leatherhead, Surrey, England, taught history, latin and classical greek in that order. He knew every boy by name and also wrote on every term report a strategic comment about the boy from first-hand knowledge, in italic in black ink from an Osmiroid fountain pen. We were terrified of him. his nickname was “strung-bones”, for he resembled a living 6ft-3″ skeleton in a pin-stiped suit, which were the only garments he ever seemed to possess. But he was actually quite a kind old man, because he had fought in WW1 and survived.

    At Epsom College, Mr Angus MacCallum (T.D., M.A Oxon) was a different kettle of fish. He had no official duties for teaching but each day he would randomly pick one, or sometimes two, teachers’ sessions, one am and one pm, and he would relieve the teacher and take the class himself. Unless he was unavoidably detained by having to cane someone at a formal appointment, or something similar and slightly less terminal, which was how it was done. Your future was not clear if you had a disciplinary interview with the headmaster. We were all of course absolutely terrified shitless by the bugger. He always wore full gown, and sometimes his mortar-board, although most of the other teachers stuck to gown only, and the science teachers were excused it while teaching in the labs but not in the libraries or lecture theatre. Mr MacCallum also knew every boy by name, and in a school of 560 boys in nine houses too (it is bigger now.)

    My point is about what a head teacher ought to be for.

  • Andrew Duffin

    DD, I have similar reminiscences. Our Headmaster taught all the first year groups at least one period a week, and many others as and when the fit took him. The admin staff consisted of the Bursar and three secretaries – this for a school of over a thousand pupils.

    By contrast, my own children attended a state primary school which had just two classrooms (yes, composite classes). The head teacher does no teaching. ALL her time is spent on Admin – in a school of about sixty children.

    This is what New Labour hath wrought.

  • Paul Marks

    My grandfather wanted to retire to Epsom (if that is where Epsom college is D.D.), but my grandmother vetoed it due to her belief that he would go betting on the horses.

    Of course James Power (my grandfather) bet on the horses anyway – and it did indeed harm him (although no in the way my grandmother thought it would), he tripped over whilst looking up at the odds board and bashed the back of his head in on the concrete step (“never quite the same after that” as the saying goes). Of course these days betting shops are allowed to have things like carpets and chairs ….. not everything has got worse over time.

    On Education:

    Going to conferences (and so on) are part of the government’s response to the failure of the “public services”.

    Contrary to media (especially BBC) propaganda there were no great “cuts” under the Conservative party governments (especially under “we have spent more than Labour even promised to spend” John Major – pushing government spending up to the, then insanely high, level of 40% of G.D.P. in 1997). Yet it was clear that government education and health care services were a failure – in spite of the endless money.

    “New Labour” thought they had a solution for this – they would increase the pay of key people (i.e. “top managers” such as headmasters and NHS admistrations) to make them more like the top people in private business. And the government would require them to get involved in all sorts of clever schemes (involing lots of paperwork and conferences) that would, somehow, make a taxpayer financed organization work “as if” it were a private business.

    There were some schemes like this under the Conservatives (the “internal markets” that, in reality, mainly just increased administration costs – for that is what the internal markets were, admin schemes) and, indeed, the idea goes back to the “market socialists” of 1920’s Vienna and so on (the people Ludwig Von Mises mocked by saying market socialists were like people who played with toy trains and thought they were running a railroad). However, under “New Labour” (Mr Brown as much as Mr Blair) the whole idea went into overdrive (in new forms) and has been tested to destuction.

    The idea has failed – utterly failed. Although there is little understanding that it has failed.

    For example, most British people do not even know that the railways are government owned (they are told that they are “private” – and most of the people believe this).

    Also most British people think that American health care is expensive because of “capitalism” or “greed” (“Start the Week” with Andrew Marr was beating that propaganda drum only this morning – and it is done endlessly) so “thank God for the NHS”.

    Of course the role of regulations and subsidy schemes in increasing the costs of American health care (over decades) is totally ignored in Britain (as it is by the “mainstream” media and the “education system” in the United States).

    No university (with the possible exception of the University of Buckingham) ever even touches upon the idea that statism might be the cause (not the solution) of things like the high cost of American health care, and no dissenting television or radio station exists in this country (“private” or state the ideology broadast is the same).

    “But you have conservative newspapers in Britain” – no we have Conservative party supporting newspapers in Britain (a rather different thing – as I found out many years ago when I was active in the Federation of Conservative Students).

    So people keep trying to make government “public services” work – even though this is not possible.

    Various new schemes will be tried (the Conservative party is thinking of “trust the front line workers” – basically letting the taxpayer paid staff do what they like in a sort of government financed syndicalism) and Labour will event new conferences and different types of documents (and so on).

    And nothing will work – and the general public will contiune to cling to statism because they have been taught that freedom is unworkable (indeed that freedom is wicked – that is based on cruelity to the poor).

    Americans often think their country has little hope – and they may be right.

    However, they should think themselves lucky they do not live in a country where this is no hope at all.

  • Paul Marks

    One of the favourate New Labour schemes has been to make every school “special”.

    Each school has a wonderful speciality – and this is made clear by big sign outside the school and vast amounts of promotional material (with conferences and organizations of course).

    It may sound absurdly dishonest – but actually most of the people involved in such schemes really believe in them and work as hard as they can.

    The schemes are not a mistake because of the people involved – they are a mistake in the same way that 1 + 1 = 28 is a mistake.

    The error is one of basic reasoning.

    Statism does not work – period.

  • Curiously, although my headmaster took no shit and ran an incredibly disciplined school, we respected him, venerated him even, but we never feared him.

    I don’t know any of my classmates who wouldn’t have walked through fire for him. He also knew us all and personally interviewed new parents to make sure they weren’t supplying him with dross.

    I guess even he could make mistakes. :o)

  • James Strong

    Most a Head’s work is outside the classroom,but with efficient time management any Head can get in for a couple of lessons every day,barring unforeseeable contingencies.

    But a lot of Heads LIKE to stay out of the classroom.
    There are a number of reasons for this,some become too ‘grand’ to go back to the chalkface.Some suspect that it’s tough in there and choose not to see it for themselves,maintaining a dishonest deniability of the problems.

    Heads like that should be sacked,but much of State education is run by people who see it as an achievement never to do any teaching.

  • I don’t remember our Head ever teaching one of my classes. But he roamed around the school relentlessly. You never knew when he was going to appear behind you – even on weekends (I boarded). He had a house on the grounds, and he notoriously appeared one Sunday morning at the metalwork shop when we were trying desperately to repair some drunken damage to my car (I wasn’t driving). He pretended not to notice the huge hole in the front that the power pole had made.

    He knew all 700 boys, and their family histories. He interviewed all parents. He was a bloody legend. I doubt he ever attended a conference in his life.

  • liam moredburn

    How you sensible Brits don’t just explode is beyond me. I realize there’s not a lot of you but ,seriously, I don’t think anyone could or would blame you if you collectively went postal. The levels of stupidity and/or arrogance (with lefties you’re never sure what it is) defy logic. But IMHO your schools have been shit since at least the 70’s. After my father died, my English mother decided to return to her family and I was enrolled in a school in Leeds. What went on amazed me – coming from (at that time) a more disciplined Canadian system, I couldn’t believe the piss-poor quality of the education. I couldn’t wait to get back as I was sure I would never get the course work I needed to get into a better-tier Canadian university. Believe me, we have problems here with elitist “educators” (teaching is an overrated profession) but it seems poor Britain once again gets the dregs.

  • jon livesey

    I think it may be a mistake to focus on education. My experience being educated in the sixties was very similar to other stories here. A Headmaster who taught Physics very well, who interviewed parents and new pupils and still managed to cane a brace of boys a day just to keep his hand in.

    But I think it’s worth noting what we didn’t have. No computers, no overhead projectors, no PowerPoint, no development days and few if any conferences off school premises. Ours was strictly a blackboard and chalk education.

    What has changed since then seems to me to affect all public services, not just education. We’ve become a PowerPoint generation, where the production and presentation of information has become more important than content and where teachers – sorry, educators – have been taken captive by the PC, just like any other civil servant.

  • manuel II paleologos

    The headmaster of my boys’ (comprehensive) school knows all the pupils by name (and most of the parents) and does some teaching. It is well funded, well run, disciplined and has benefited from most of the reforms of recent years.

    Their curricula are also very transparent. It is quite clear what you need to know to succeed, which I think is a good thing. When people moan about how it removes skill from teaching, what they actually mean is that you can find out easily what you are supposed to know and whether your teacher has explained it properly.

    O levels were a poor hotchpotch of different standards with a heavy onus on teachers to know the details of the curricula and the conventions of the markers. My (private) school messed up on our geography curriculum for a whole paper (40%) but most of us got As anyway because it was so ridiculously easy and poorly thought out.

    Just a brief contrary view – sorry to spoil the fun.

  • @John Livesey “where the production and presentation of information has become more important than content”

    So true. Witness Our Dear Leader Gordon Brown continually talking about the perception of crime, freedom, healthcare or whatever, the perception, not the delivery, not the reality. All a matter of presentation, a sales pitch that is expected to end in the signing of another 5 year contract with no break clause on our side.

    David Cameron is from the world of PR.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Manuel, you are not “spoiling the fun”, but your experience of schooling is clearly not shared by a lot of former pupils in the UK. Stories of teachers having to deal with unruly, unteachable children are not fiction, but fact, even though I am sure that some cases can and do get blown up by the press.

    I was pretty fortunate at my schooling in Suffolk in the 1970s and 80s in that the headmasters ran a pretty tight ship although there were a few teachers who were a bit useless, as well as one who as actively unpleasant and used to hit kids quite a lot, and would probably be helping the police with their enquiries these days.