Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Freedom of Speech? Ah – that would be an ecumenical matter…


I did not condemn the IRA in 1971 when I wrote calling for the withdrawal of troops from Ireland. I was reminded of this the evening of Bloody Sunday, 30-01-1972,  when a group of male, drunken rugby club thugs played a game of judging how near my head they could throw beer bottles, whilst singing, “13 dead taigs it should’ve been more.”

In 1978 I wrote a series of articles under the name Christian Torres calling for a reversal of women’s rights, a ban on contraception and other reactionary things. I got tremendous support until someone realised they were spoof articles and then there were more bottles. I’m not sure how hard Debbie Day Crickmore was going to hit me with her bottle as it was coming from behind. Someone stopped her and then a group of profound Christians held a meeting to decide if they would pray for me. They decided I was too far in league with the devil for prayer or salvation.

In 1982, the publication of my first English Language book for Collins was met with intellectual condemnation of my revisionism by Haringey’s English Advisor. Mind you he was trying, unsuccessfully, poor soul, to seduce my wife.

My use of words has been provocative at times. I have been pleased that my last blog on Parenting and Childhood in Crisis has been so well received by an audience seven times greater than usual and I will return to this theme later in the year. I have been told that parents respected my stance that I am no better than anyone else.

However...

My exhilarated, blistering, biblically uncompromising prose has me in trouble with a few self-appointed spokesmen for Catholicism. Only the very safe, the very cloistered, isolated and dogmatic can be so sure of wrong and right. Waving both English and Irish passports, I am amazed, and politically impressed, that the church in Ireland has lost so much credibility through covering up the sins of its priests that we now have laws allowing divorce, gay marriage, contraception and abortion and a gay Taoiseach whose dad was born in Mumbai. This is fantastically 21st century. However, the governors of St Mary’s Catholic School, Bishops Stortford, and their lawyers, worry that I am dangerous, and, in their deepest, darkest thoughts they seem to fear I wish to perform satanic rights with their young people.

Now I’m not a devout catholic but I have a view on heaven. When St. Peter does his interminable shift of listening to some priests, some nuns, some bishops, archbishops and popes explaining why they performed or covered up sexual, physical and mental abuse of young children I wonder how worried he will be that the next guy seeking entry thinks single faith schools are divisive.
Following a three page speech against my right to free speech by the governors of St Mary’s it was worrying to see that their Headteacher, recently so under siege from just about every national newspaper – and not for the school’s exam results – joined in the final declaration : “We repeat that we respect (his) right to hold and express his views in accordance with the law, but…”

Oh dear, there was a “but”.

Apparently my freedom of speech does not include opposing the idea of faith schools, which I see as segregating children at a time when we need to draw  together as humanity and show that killing people because of their faith is not admired by any of their very similar gods.
Blind faith in one’s righteousness would be a terrible thing and damning freedom of speech can only end in tyranny, silence and fear, if we are silent. At times in the last decade I have been invited to speak on Holocaust Education in the House of Commons, to an audience including the education minister in the Department for Education offices and in the Russian Embassy on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. My message was that we have to stand up for freedom of speech and freedom of worship and that when we don’t, after the murder of Jews, Catholics, Communists, Slavs, Homosexuals and the Disabled they will be coming for the rest of us.

I reckon their Headteacher hankered for a return to 1492, and the expulsion of all Jews and Muslims from Catholic Spain unless they converted to Catholicism. Nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition, but they came to seek out, torture and often execute those “conversos” who were still secretly holding on to their old faith. I guess their religion would call them martyrs, just like many in the Book of Saints we had at home.

I think I will have to leave my job within the next 10 years, so I’ve been thinking ‘succession.’ The advert for my job will have to reflect the nature of the school. Catholic schools try, even though, it severely diminishes the field of possible candidates, to demand that the Headteacher be a practising catholic with a letter from the parish priest. Shortlisting is a breeze in faith schools. Would I be right in thinking that Jewish faith schools and Muslim faith schools use the same sort of deselection criteria? I knew a Seventh Day Adventist supply teacher who moved straight into headship as the governors felt that his religion was more important than his teaching experience or qualifications.

Would it be at all controversial or against some Equality Act if a state, co-educational, comprehensive, non-denominational school put out a job advert that says, “No Catholics, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims or Jews may apply?”

After being accused by the governor, lawyer and Headteacher of being anti-Catholic, I rang my sister, my nephews in Ireland, my old friend Father Danny who is an enforcer for the church. I consulted the old men with whom I shared a primary school education and duties as an altar server. Most of them thought there had been a misreading of religious works, the latter group said it was my turn at the bar. I never kept in touch with any of the kids, now adults, to whom I taught Catechism classes on Saturdays at St Mary Magdalen’s.

My view is simple:

What divides us or segregates, by religion or class, fosters discrimination and makes society weaker.  A few weeks ago faith schools were allowed by government decree to have 100% of their faith children in their schools. Is this because society is coping so well with matters of faith? Does it reduce the number of attacks on Jews? Does it encourage moral development in our schools?

I know it was 1969 when we had the catholic lesson on sex education. It was all about STDs and Mickey Green asked if wearing a condom reduced the risk. He was taken aside and no-one ever answered his question. Were catholic schools surprised that there were unplanned pregnancies that filled their Magdalena Laundries and provided many American families with children they could adopt in return for a wee bit of cash?

There are no static context free British values and I understand that values evolve with the maturity of a society. Who would have thought Ireland would be the first country to vote for Gay Marriage in a referendum. There is no place for Sharia Law in Britain and we need to respect British Muslims into society, not ostracise, isolate, label and condemn them.

In 2017, about one third of the 20,000 state funded schools in England were faith schools, 6,814 in total, of which 68% were Church of England schools and 30% were Roman Catholic. There were 48 Jewish, 27 Muslim, 11 Sikh and 5 Hindu faith schools – these last 4 on the increase whilst the others slightly declined in number.

Are we really surprised that Muslims do some Islam related teaching in state sponsored Muslim schools, that their ethos may be a bit different to the going-to-mass-in-school-time Catholic faith schools? Do boys in Jewish faith schools wear the kippah, Sikhs turbans and Muslim girls the niqab? Surely the refusal to insist on secular state schools means we tolerate faith schools praising and proclaiming their own religion just a bit. Do we doubt that the Methodists, Greek Orthodox and United Reformed Church who all have state funding for their schools, sometimes go on a bit about what they consider the best bits of their faiths? Allow and encourage faith schools and we must accept that elements of separatism will pervade. The Friends (Quaker) school might mention pacifism when talking of war, much to the distaste of those who glorify British wars. And as for the Hindu Free school with a ban on sausages…

If we segregate children by religion are we surprised they become segregated socially? If we want a multicultural society our kids have got to grow up together.
 
Let all schools educate about the similarities between religions, the fact that there are different views of religion. A little thought to town planning, to mixed housing provision to help create communities of people of all races, religions and colours who consider themselves British and who can celebrate their faith, or none, in a fair society based on good old British values: equality of opportunity, meritocracy, inclusion, fair play and doing the right thing.

Dennis O'Sullivan

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Parenting And Childhood In Crisis


In our local group of secondary schools over 500 students qualify for special consideration, individual arrangements, someone to read for them, or a scribe in exams. They get rest breaks, extra time, separate rooms room in this summer’s public examinations. It seems kids have more problems and are needier in 2018 than last year and much more so than a decade ago.

In 2018, nationally, more children have special needs, more are home educated and more are expelled from their schools.

We have children who don’t eat, others who can’t sleep, a number self -harm, and others report that they have dark thoughts and are anxious, depressed and suicidal. This is terrible and I don’t think it’s just a case of today’s schools asking them how they feel.

I read this today: “He is unable to understand or manage his extreme emotions, sees himself only in negatives and is becoming increasingly isolated and distressed.”

We have parents who don’t know how to support, help or bring up their children in a society where childhood is sentimentalised, parents feel guilty and the fantasy world of social media creates a warped view of family life.

As parents, many but by no means all, demand much from ourselves perhaps too much and we don’t always get it right.

This is almost certainly the most controversial of my 49 published blogs. Most are read by other headteachers and teachers and sometimes one or two readers promise never to talk to me ever again. Being anti faith school gets the catholics going and mention of selection in comprehensive schools annoys a few headteachers to the extent they will not read a word I write. I expect some angry parents among the 1,000 or so who will read this monologue. I bet I’m on Radio 3 Counties again and misquoted by the atrociously poor scribes on The Hertfordshire Mercury.

So

I am head of an outstanding inclusive school and parents overwhelmed Ofsted with their support for what we do. The vast majority of our parents are wonderful supporters of their kids and do everything to help them do well in school and life.  They love their kids and help them develop a morality of honesty, effort, decency, care for others and to understand right and wrong. But I think parenting is in crisis.

I was on a hot,  crowded train from Cornwall to London, a little frustrated because I couldn’t get the score from the Spurs-Arsenal game. A 5 year old kept asking silly questions, making odd noises and generally being a pain. His dad kept saying things like, “Why are you doing that, Popett?” and, “I don’t think you should do that, Popett.” For 200 miles we listened to Popett until, just short of London, his mum joined the discussion with, “Stop it!” and he did.

Despite the ex-headteacher from Presdales having called me poppet once,  I left that train with an intense dislike of the word and always precede it with “Bloody!”

The 5 year old will grow up.

Last week, 12 year old Drew stole his mum’s credit card, flew to Bali, booked into a good hotel, hired a motorbike and sent his friends photos of himself boozing in the swimming pool. Mum has been very upset that people have been blaming her; “He doesn’t like being told no.”
It’s OK to say, “No”

Children push boundaries. Rules and expectations set by parents and teachers have this in common. If a teacher gives their class a 5 minute break some kids come back 10 minutes later; if parents set a 10 pm deadline many children will test this. So, if he comes in at 10.10 make the next deadline 9.50.
There was some midnight trouble at last year’s Ware Music Day and I asked a 13 year old if he’d been involved. “I don’t know. Where was I at midnight on Saturday, mum?” To which his very intelligent, well dressed supportive mum replied, “I don’t know; where were you?”
More advice: Know where your kids are.

A very nice middle class man, with his own business, asked if we could put on weekend, evening activities at the school because his son was out late, getting in trouble and in with the wrong crowd, and, “I can’t ground him.”

In 1966 a neighbour said that I’d fallen in with a bad crowd to which my mum replied, “My Dennis is a bad crowd.”

The reality our children live in is a different place.

Here’s where we might go wrong:

Often, both parents work hard or there’s only one parent at home and she works hard so that the kids are fed, clothed and have the things that other kids have. At 4.00 pm boys go home and most plug into Fortnite in their bedroom until it’s time to go to bed. Girls pursue their Instagram, Snap Chat and other social media in their bedroom. The parents have worked hard and the fridge is well stocked. The kids are quiet and they seem happy. They don’t challenge, and they go to sleep some time, and the police don’t call. We buy them things for their bedroom, costing thousands: an Xbox, and iPhone, a laptop and a TV, with Sky, BT and Netflix subscriptions.

17 year old Billy had 21 kills on Fortnite by 5.00 am last Wednesday and struggled to stay awake in his Economics lesson.  Parents should know: you can’t save Fortnite, you play until you exit.

If school reports suggest things are going wrong, perhaps homework isn’t being done and then parents need to set times for homework, times for the other stuff and times for sleep. This isn’t always easy once patterns of behaviour are established but, we are the parents and they need to do as we say.

We feel guilty when things go wrong. We need set boundaries and then enforce them with rewards and short term sanctions.

I listened as a  teacher phoned two parents to issue detentions for missed GCSE work. The first mother talked for 10 minutes about how he didn’t do the work because the teacher didn’t praise him enough. The second parent said, “He’ll be there.”

I watched as another parent blamed her son’s lack of homework on the teacher having not selected him to play in a match even though he didn’t turn up to a single practice.

I was asked to rescind my praise for the way her son handled a possible confrontation with a teacher because it was all the teacher’s fault. A dad watched CCTV of his son beating another boy and claimed the victim was the aggressor because he raised his hands as he was being hit. I told a mother that the police were asking about her son and had to write a letter of apology when the police said they weren’t. A well trusted parent watched a video of his son punch a boy 30 times and called it “banter.”

Take your pick, but two of these went to prison – one for murder - and two of the other parents now want us to help with “mental health” problems because their kids are unco-operative and miserable.

When teachers telephone to say things are going a little astray at school parents need to ask themselves  why would the school be lying,? Why would the school be picking on my kid? Perhaps my child has done something wrong. It’s not the end of the world but she was late or she didn’t do her homework or she did misbehave. Can’t you just let us get on with it?

Teachers should not patronise but we should ask the parent to trust us whilst  we always remember their child is the most important thing, person and concept to them in the world ever, ever.

I can’t count the number of times a parent has recounted minute by minute what was said in a classroom she hadn’t been in and the new phrase, “My son/daughter would never lie to me” is  a modern interpretation of childhood.  I was perplexed by the parents who swore blind that their kid would never take drugs even though we have provided the boy with the drugs counselling he requested.

I have to admit that I often lied to try and get out of trouble as a child – I must have been a very bad boy.

During the last 40 years I have taught 5 murderers attended 8 terrible teenage funerals, I  taught children with lousy home lives, violent or abusive relatives, living with poverty and fecklessness, I have been stalked slandered and libelled, wrongly accused, threatened, occasionally sworn at and had a truly wonderful time helping young people learn about themselves and the world.

I’ve been in schools with many thousands of ordinary kids who have been very decent people with or without brilliant qualifications. Mainly their families were not well off, were struggling or just about not managing. It is not often the poorest that indulge children.

Teachers are trying to do something incredibly important, joyous and rewarding and sometimes we have helped end the trap of poverty, deprivation and hopelessness. I’ve met people I once taught and they are bankers, lawyers, plumbers, doctors, bakers, electicians, happy fathers and mothers, mountain climbers and even a couple who were better snooker players than me.

Generally, teachers teach 200 kids each week and for them to hate a particular student is frankly, unrealistic. Teachers do not lie awake hating children. Teachers are rarely perfect and even rarer are they child haters.

Do we notice that children rarely talk with other children? They text rather than speak. Internet chat is brief, abbreviated, MTV slang. Good luck if you try to translate Instagram comments.

The world of social media puts our children in a different reality where pseudo adult conversations take place and children do not talk with other children as children. 13 year old girls are transfixed by the pouting, materialist excess, sexualisation and superficiality typified by Kardashians. None of us would want our daughters to be pursuing the lifestyles proclaimed in Geordie Shore, Ex on the Beach and Made in Chelsea but 8 year olds are admiring this stuff.

We should monitor what our kids watch – some programmes are on after 9 pm for a reason. How  many 12 year olds play the ultra-violent “Call of Duty?”

Social media is not the source of anomie in society.  Without a platform to show people how nice our dinner looks, how much better I am than you because here’s a picture of me in Barbados we’d have to talk to our friends about things. We have probably all seen post demands such as, “Like this or I am unfriending you.”  My granddaughter had 600 friends on her Instagram account, before she sat down with her mum and filtered. The more friends I have, the more likes I have, the more popular I must be and my self-esteem lives by the internet.

The perils of bullying on social media are well known and schools do lots of work on this. One woman told me that she was a terrible bully at school, “I was horrible to you. But when you went home I had to leave you alone. Today you can bully 24-7.” We have to teach kids to see that the bully is bad, not someone to get in with or copy and that it really is OK to tell someone about bullying. If only because they are saving other kids from the bully.

Younger children use the internet to be more aware, scared and in need of talk than ever. I cam across this quote: ”Of course we’re depressed. You destroyed the economy for us, the earth is literally dying, we are going to work until we die, and on top of that the Nazis are back.”

If we give parenting a try and talk with other parents as well , we will find that many 15 year olds get “depressed” that most of us get “anxious” before exams and that we all worried about our physical appearance, being popular and not having a girlfriend/boyfriend. It is OK to say, “I hate you,” “You're mean,” and “Other parents let their kids …” That’s all part of the rules of parent child negotiations and saying, “Do as you’re told” is OK.

Exams are stressful and there are too many of them. Kids are particularly anxious if they haven’t done as much revision as they should. It’s not a mental health problem to feel anxious about tests. The queue for CAMHs is enormous. I wonder how many kids in need of help are not yet seen because half the 6th form students in Hertford and Ware got in first?

Labels, now there’s a thing.

I remember a woman on the radio responding to her 10 year old’s atrocious abuse of his neighbourhood and all the people in it: foul language, violence, theft, vandalism, burglary. “What people don’t know, she asserted, “Is that my boy has ADHD.” And that makes it OK

We beat ourselves up as parents but for some, how nice it is to have a label that says, “It’s not my fault.”

You can get a private assessment, pay them the money and be told your child has mild autism (like most of us) dyslexic tendencies or Opposition Defiant Disorder (and yes they do mean ODD). You  still have to talk to and work with your child.  The label does not abrogate responsibility.

Worries about sexual identity are not new and it is wonderful that modern media has let people see that we are all “normal,” that identity concerns are valid and that there are various routes to fulfilment. I get a bit fed up when being “trans” means dying my hair, dressing like half-hearted goths, getting drunk and being unable to attend school; the wannabee pretend ones getting in the way of young people who need and want and seek help and change.

Oh, and by the way, kids who stay in bed for 12 hours are bound to be tired and the longer you let them stay in bed the more ill and housebound they will become. And, while I’m on a roll. If you drop your kids at Asda for breakfast we confiscate energy drinks.

Although this may be on the controversial side of my blogs, I am confident I still have a job. 10 years ago my chair of governors and I locked his son in a classroom on a Saturday for about 5 hours so he could, finally, finish his science coursework. We gave him food and drink every so often and he told us, “It’s not fair.” The boy won a national basketball title, earned a university degree, works for a living and loves his dad.

Parents can take away their children’s mobile phones for a bit, turn off the Xbox for a while, set boundaries which they enforce with rewards and sanctions and started talking with their kids like we’re the  adults and they are children. The queue for counselling services would shrink so that the very needy are seen; fewer teacher-parent confrontations are in the way of good teaching and learning and children are playing in the park.

Let kids be kids: play out, get minor hurts without A&E let them be naughty, and then corrected, let them tell fibs that you can see through so that now they think you’re omniscient; take them to the  zoo, McDonalds , chat about their schooling, praise their achievements, help them become resilient, happy people who can suffer the slings and arrows of a materialist society; show them you care about other people (because you do) and that your friends are important to you because of what they’re like rather than what they possess.

I wonder what my emails will look like now?

Dennis O'Sullivan

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

To Be or Not To Be; Headteacher, Saint or Demigod


When I saw that Donald Trump wants to arm school principals I wondered if this is the solution to our perennial school problems: short skirts, missed homeworks and trainers. It may be that headteachers have a pathological dislike of chewing gum and this could be easily solved if we shot a few kids.

I’m not sure I would trust headteachers to act reasonably faced with such unbearable provocation. I’m not sure I trust headteachers to be reasonable people. And, yes, I can assure you, I will be generalising, except when I give obviously specific examples.

I know of one long serving headteacher who cannot be interrupted whilst speaking. It is accepted at his school that this is so. The drawback here is that we don’t always speak wisely or know what to do. He was surprised during his contribution at a headterachers’ conference when the rest of the audience decided he was dull and started talking amongst themselves. He bellowed an unfunny punchline, laughed at his own humour and sat, red-faced, unused to critical acclaim. At the same time, it was rude of all the heads to demean him. Sometimes we can be insensitive, rude and double-standarded.

Being on X Factor does not mean you’re a good singer and the entire profession should be protected from heads who have been on TV. We may have a misconceived perception of our importance, operating with the clenched fist of truth and self belief in the one true path to success. Only Trump, Putin and Boris know all the answers.

Headteachers should listen to everyone.

At my first school the headteacher, Saul Ezra, was regularly harangued at staff meetings and it was no real surprise when one day he announced that there would be no discussion on a new school rule: “As of today children will walk upstairs on the left hand side and downstairs on the right hand side.” I tried to advise but he was adamant that “enough is enough.” I have never seen a school staff so willingly watch the new school rule – during the 20 minutes it survived the obvious.


I know that some of my colleagues are under pressure to single handedly, “turn schools round’” which is a great-man myth perpetrated by government ministers and the great men (and women) who claim to turn schools from failing to amazing in a year or two. A few expulsions and some revision lessons do not change the nature of a school. Schools need investment in their teachers and a developing ethos based on whole school achievement. I once listened to a headteacher tell how he had turned round four failing schools in ten years. There are no great men (or  women) but he must have been a magician. Great heads can help great teachers improve achievement, working with the students and their parents; it takes time and more commitment than a game of pool.

In a time when new Headteachers are told they have 12 months to bring about system change and improved results and they are then sacked it is a little cruel of me to scorn our tiny corner of the profession. However, I am surprised at some colleagues claiming to have turned round schools that no-one knew were failing in the first place. Just as surprised as hearing almost all job candidates claim the best results in their schools.

I know of a headteacher who issued yellow, and then red, cards to staff who disagreed with her at meetings. She also checked teachers’ marking by lining them all up, then summoning the next one up on to a stage where she sat and checked the books. Teachers with poor marking would be sat in the hall to do it again, properly. This could all take a long time, but she was in charge. She treated her staff like naughty servants. Morale sank under her leadership, student achievement plummeted, the school failed Ofsted - while she literally ate cake- and she was removed from post. Children get one shot at education and we have no right to mess it up, or be allowed to mess it up.

I wonder how many students fail in schools because headteachers do not have the trust of their staff. If we’re not leading people what are we doing? I know of a school where the majority of the staff told Ofsted they had no confidence in the senior team. Strangely the team members decided this was only a vote against the head, who promptly, and under prompting, resigned.

The government cuts our funding every year and this same government has failed its own recruitment targets in each of the last five years. This has dominated our work and disrupted our sleep. Many headteachers are retiring early or just plain giving up trying to recruit teachers who are not alive and trained and balancing budgets that can’t add up. In 3 years over 90% of secondary schools will not be able to balance this budgets, at which point the DfE is charged with ordering us to dismiss teachers.

Back to Saul and I remember how he shuffled papers allowing his deputy and me to be verbally attacked and abused by a group of local politicians who were there to defend a bully. Loyalty has got to be one of the most important personality characteristics in schools – even more so with heads.

The head at my second school didn’t want to appoint me but was overruled by the governors. As I set off for my first Senior Team meeting I was advised not to say anything. I lasted half an hour. One of my suggestions that she liked was to get rid of the uniform description “dark grey” and replace with “black.” It transpired that uniform is a governors responsibility and when they questioned her, the head said, “I don’t know why Dennis thought he could do this.”

Disloyalty rests with the self- centred or the cowardly opportunist. If you can’t trust your headteacher then no-one takes risks and everyone is afraid of failure. 

Heads are easy targets for disgruntled students, parents and, sometimes, politicians. I have had three sets of secret HR meetings about me but held in my absence and without my knowledge. In the first one, my headteacher at this school stood up for me, and possibly saved my career, even though she had only known me a few weeks. In the most recent  meeting, convened because a social worker decided there could only be one person in the world with my name, our chair of governors refused to suspend me. I may well have had a slightly controversial career so one need only Google, “Yid Army Schoolboys” for the Daliy Telegraph article on a time when governors were asked to step bravely, and found it difficult to do so.

On this last matter I am obliged to abide by an agreement, the content of which I am not allowed to see. As it’s clearly illegal to hold me to something I can’t see my union advised me to sign the piece of paper that allowed the Director of Education to abrogate his duties. We can fall victim to bureaucrats which is one reason so many of us accepted relative independence as academies. Teachers looking to be heads should beware the insensitivity of  Multi Academy Trusts who sack without second thoughts. Did I mention my lack of admiration for Executive Headteachers already?

If teachers are to teach and children to learn it is compulsory for the head to support the staff and the governors to support the head. This does not mean that anyone should accept and support wrongdoing.

One teacher showed a boy the bin for his chewing gum and mum called the police, saying he’d been smacked in the face. I refused to let the police interview the teacher and it is school policy to expel students making false allegations against staff. Another seriously false claim of assault was loved by the police who did all they could to humiliate the innocent teacher, until the serial false accuser admitted that she made up the story. Headteachers are no longer allowed to suspend staff without strong evidence but we should not need the weight of the 2017 law to stand up for maligned teachers. Headteachers should be loyal and brave.

Headteachers can be the target for abuse by parents and by strangers coming on site at the end of the school day. For 39 years I have confronted  potentially violent strangers and I was critical of a head whose instruction was “staff to staffroom” whenever close of day problems occur. Then one day I bent to help a young man from the gutter and his arm came at me in a perfect arc. Time slowed and I realised I was open to a possibly lethal knife attack. His arm dropped; he swore at me and ran away. I know of a staff in London where they wear stab vests on duty and during our very own Race Riots (or Newham 8 as it is known online)  in 1983, my headteacher told me, “Get them to the school gates and leave it to the police.”  I’m not sure who is right in these situations but I do know that heads need to be courageous in their decision making in all sorts of situations and they should not be tossed around by ambitious politicians in search of publicity and unearned advancement.

Very few headteachers get the sort of reputation of one recent head who parked right next to the exit and his name became synonymous with leaving school on the bell: “Doing a Jonesy.” Headteachers should set an example.

One teacher once told me that there was a major problem with the school: “There’s too much talk about students.” At a time when I wonder what drives Executive Headteachers, and what is it they do I offer this: Our job as leaders is to think big, to leave teachers energised, optimistic and excited by the challenges of educating children. We should not shy away from pursuing our values, sharing and driving our ambition for all kids, particularly those cast astray by a system meddled to near exhaustion.

Personally I think we need to be in school, with an open door and a welcoming inquisitiveness and governors and governments should understand that instinct and experience are sometimes the same thing.

I guess we all have to live by principles - as few as possible so we can sleep at night. The best headteachers, and there are many, follow a moral purpose with dignity, unending optimism, care for their staff and dedication to thriving schools at the centre of their communities.

Being a head is easy – try delivering paraffin and get back to me.

Dennis O'Sullivan