October 2010

The know zone

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  • Lost in translation?
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  • Filing down bureaucracy
    Proposals to reduce bureaucracy were at the centre of debate at ASCLís September Council meeting, as was ensuring fairness for all in the education system as the academies programme begins to gather steam. More
  • To 'B' or not to 'B'?
    While the Secretary of Stateís announcement of an English Baccalaureate could have signalled a move towards a broader, freer curriculum, the current proposal is a performance measure rather than a new qualification, says Brian Lightman. More
  • Band on the Run
    Leaders of schools and colleges have a lot in common with leaders of rock and roll bands, says Ziggy Flop, just not the sex, drugs and rockíníroll. More
  • Lead vocals
    Quotes from John Fogerty, Robert Yates, Teddy Roosevelt and Rosalyn Carter. More
  • Engaging with all students
    Many teachers have taught year 11 pupils who fail to engage in learning or are consistently disruptive in class. More
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Leaders of schools and colleges have a lot in common with leaders of rock and roll bands, says Ziggy Flop, just not the sex, drugs and rockíníroll.

Band on the Run

A few years ago, new to the world of deputy headship, and keen to find out what it was all about and maybe even how to do it, I enrolled on an MA in educational leadership.

Nobody who knows me well was surprised to learn that I never completed it, but, thanks to Druckerís explanation of the difference between readers and listeners, I was able to be not too harsh on myself.

I realised that, despite talk of personalised learning and individual styles, having to write several assignments and a dissertation based on reading endless repetitive theories of leadership from those ensconced in the ivory towers of academia was not what suited me best.

It also explained why every undergraduate essay I ever did was either handed in late or, at best, at the last minute, following a sleepless night supported by black coffee and a pack of disque bleu.

Now, a few years later, older, hopefully wiser and certainly a good bit more cynical, I look back and wonder what it was all about. Iím not sure if Iíve managed to assimilate one, let alone seven, of the habits highly effective people apparently have, but Iím sure I know more about leading a school in turbulent times through experience and instinct than I ever learnt from a book.

I did, at one point, anguish over whether to be a transactional, transformative or post-transformational leader but Iím not sure it would have made a lot of difference when Ofsted came a calling or the budget got squeezed.

This all came back to me when I recently sat down to watch Mark Radcliffeís BBC TV series Iím in a Rock Ďní Roll Band. I thought it would be an examination of the DNA of the truly great band. Instead, it turned out to be about school leadership, using the dynamics of a rock band as an analogy for how school leaders function.

Why bother reading the nonsense from academia when there are wonderful true life leaders to inspire the next generation of headteachers? All you need to do is go to music concerts, preferably the bigger the better. Itís such a brilliant idea that, even in these times of budget austerity, no governing body could refuse your request to fly to New York to see the final show of Bruce Springsteenís world tour at Madison Square Garden.

If things get too tight, you could always go for plan B. Sit at home and watch endless DVDs of the rock Ďní roll greats strutting their stuff on stage. There are no books to read and certainly no assignments to fret over.

The leader of the band is clearly the headteacher. Described by Radcliffe as a benevolent dictator, this preening and strutting megalomaniac needs strong doses of arrogance, confidence, self-belief and courage to keep the band, crew and roadies happy at the back and the audience entertained out front.

If they think itís hard work entertaining 50,000 at Glastonbury, they should try balancing the perpetually conflicting demands of the DfE, LA, governors, staff, students and parents. Itís like trying to write one song that will appeal equally to Simon and Garfunkel, Motorhead and Queen fans.

And weíre not allowed to ride motor bikes into our audience, shout Ďbollocksí into the microphone or bite the heads offdefenceless birds to keep them in line. Though to be fair, itís a while since any parents spat at me or threw a glass bottle at my head. Probably a couple of weeks, in fact.

The good news, though, is that just like the multiplicity of academic leadership theories, thereís a vast range of effective styles to choose from when fronting a band. You may be more pouting Mick Jagger than tantric Sting, more prone to Noel Gallagherís mood swings than Iggy Popís hyperactivity, more diva than Debbie Harry or more provocative than Patti Smith.

All of them have been idolised by millions and achieved their place in the rock and roll hall of fame. Unlike the straightjacketed judgement of Ofsted, there are no obvious dos and doníts when finding your fame and fortune on the rock stage.

School leadership and music stardom. Theyíre the same thing, just without the sex, drugs, fame, adulation, untold wealth and world travel. Still, whoíd swap a Sunday afternoon re-writing the soon-to-be-abandoned SEF whilst deciding how to cut half a million pounds off next yearís budget for a recording studio in the Bahamas...?

So, thatís £50 million saved on training from the National College, I wonder if Mr Gove will build us a new sports hall to thank me. Now, where did I put that DVD of Spinal Tap?

  • Ziggy Flop canít sing, canít dance and doesnít play an instrument. He was last seen running a school in the Midlands...


Want the last word?

Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If youíd like to share your humorous observations of school life, email Sara Gadzik at leader@ascl.org.uk ASCL offers a modest honorarium.

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