July 2012

The know zone

  • Water-tight contracts
    Along with greater freedom and independence, schools also now have the huge responsibility of procuring the services of reliable contractors. Schools and colleges need to have their wits about them as Richard Bird explains More
  • Rate of return
    How do you convert time into money? Sam Ellis explains the many complexities of this question and looks at how schools can get value for money when deploying their staff. More
  • Lead vocals
    Quotes from Michael Jordan, Michaelangelo, Audrey Hepburn, Carl Sagan and Thomas Fuller More
  • Fame academy
    Vic Goddard is principal of Passmores Academy in Harlow, which is the school featured in Channel 4’s BAFTA-nominated documentary series, Educating Essex. More
  • Summing up
    Aviva’s Paying for It scheme gets students thinking about finances – their own and the nation’s. More
  • Adding value
    ASCL members can save money More
  • Fishing for staff?
    What is the most effective way to recruit and retain the best graduates as teachers? The parliamentary Education Select Committee has put forward its own ideas, ranging from higher pay and performance bonuses to sabbatical scholarships and a Royal College of Teaching. Here, leaders share their own views. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    Exams: Double the trouble? and Are exclusions a 'fine' thing More
  • A slippery slope?
    Struggling schools need the best heads to turn them around. But the fear of being sacked if they do not succeed quickly is deterring outstanding leaders from taking on these tough roles and undermining attempts to tackle social mobility, says Brian Lightman. More
  • Skirting the issue
    Long-serving heads will have particular targets in mind as retirement approaches. Going before you’re pushed is clearly crucial. After that, it’s all about the legacy you will leave, says Dennis Richards. More
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Long-serving heads will have particular targets in mind as retirement approaches. Going before you’re pushed is clearly crucial. After that, it’s all about the legacy you will leave, says Dennis Richards.

Skirting the issue

Ensuring you leave a legacy isn’t easy these days – very few heads reach household name status. Rhodes Boyson achieved it but it needed a preposterous moustache and a career as a right wing politician to achieve it.

Anthony Seldon is the closest modern equivalent with 25 books to his name including best selling biographies of Blair and Brown, and his proposal that we should put happiness lessons on the curriculum. It’s caught on at Wellington, apparently, but it’s taking a bit longer in Wakefield.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the 65 year-old Chief at Ofsted is looking like he’ll leave something of a legacy. Rage against the dying of the light, by all means, but it’s a bit rich seeking to build a legacy by bludgeoning your ex-colleagues into nervous breakdowns.

What is certain is that a legacy based on Ofsted reports, value-added, and exam results is so ten a penny nobody will remember you within six months. Working for the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) has become a bit like being taken on by SAGA. Having part of the school named after you becomes confused with the question as to whether you’re still alive.

The really desperate resort to some kind of stunt which ensures their reputation is enshrined forever. Some years ago, a fellow head responded enthusiastically to the Parent Teacher Association’s (PTA’s) suggestion that he should perform a striptease at the Christmas disco. It required stripping down to a pair of white boxer shorts and jiving to the song You Sexy Thing by Hot Chocolate.

All went well until one parent grassed on him to the Daily Mail. He dug a deeper hole by claiming that from where he was standing the parents were clearly enjoying it. Given he was 59, even his most loyal supporters thought he was stretching things a bit... as it were.

Leaving a legacy to be proud of has defeated Blair, Brown and Bush. Clinton did better, but it’s probably not wise to focus too much on him. The real role model is Sir Alex... Ferguson, that is.

He saw off the competition for his star member of staff, told the world only a manager as experienced as him could have pulled it off and put off retiring for at least ten more years. I bet he flogs Rooney off when it suits him.

Staff started worrying about me when I signed up five physics teachers because we “needed a bigger squad”, putting two “on the bench” and sending two out “on loan” to local schools. Worked a treat. I quite liked the idea of being a Manchester United of schools. Trouble is most of our kids identify with Leeds. Taking on the mantle of a Leeds United among schools would probably have put us in special measures.

My legacy problem was solved at a routine staff meeting. Yet again staff had asked for uniform to be put on the agenda. It has to be said they had a point. We have reached that unique moment in the history of school uniform when girls’ skirts and boys’ trousers are speeding in opposite directions. The skirts are in orbit and the trousers are round the ankles.

“Why can’t they all wear trousers?” said a voice of common sense at the back of the room. Because it was nearly 5 o’clock, we all agreed it is a great idea. And so it came to pass.

Within hours of the announcement on the school’s website, the media descended on us. BBC TV cameras at the school gate. A flight to Heathrow and a taxi ride to the GMTV studios were offered as an inducement for an interview. Every weirdo in Britain sent us an email.

The phone hacking scandal was in full flow and the coalition was falling apart. No matter, “Top Harrogate school bans skirts”, swept across the front pages. An SOS (save our skirts) campaign began on Facebook. The feminist lobby was in full cry. I was invited to be a national spokesperson for the British Trouser Council.

All I really wanted was a quiet life and normal conversations with my students. I also said I wanted a legacy. I’ve got one now.

Dennis Richards OBE stepped down from his post as headteacher of St Aidan’s CE High School in Harrogate in December after 23 years. He is now working as a teaching assistant in another local school.

Want the last word?

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