October 2018

The know zone

  • Data unbound
    ASCL's latest project is helping schools to extract deeper meaning from their data and do it in a much more timely fashion, says Duncan Baldwin. More
  • Focus on curriculum
    With so many schools having to find increasingly innovative ways of stretching their budgets, Julia Harnden says the key to their ability to manage their money well is by keeping the curriculum at the heart of their financial planning. More
  • Hand in hand
    Suzanne O'Farrell highlights some key pointers to ensure your curriculum and assessment are properly aligned. More
  • What lies beyond?
    Kevin Gilmartin explores the findings of a major House of Lords report on Treating Students Fairly that looks into the economics of post-school education. More
  • Dear newly qualified teacher...
    What is the one piece of advice you would give to encourage anyone about to embark on their first teaching role? Something to inspire and instil in them the same spark or passion of teaching that you share - here ASCL members share their views. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    Hotline advice expressed here, and in calls to us, is made in good faith to our members. Schools and colleges should always take formal HR or legal advice from their indemnified provider before acting. More
  • Superheroes*
    It's time to make job adverts for headship more realistic, down-to-earth and honest - to ensure that the candidates are, too, says Carl Smith. More
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It’s time to make job adverts for headship more realistic, down-to-earth and honest – to ensure that the candidates are, too, says Carl Smith.


Are you a truly exceptional human being? No, not just ‘ordinary exceptional’ – the kind you may find on any street corner – but truly exceptional, the kind of exceptional where you exude exceptionality even when doing the ironing or taking out the bins.

No? Me neither.

In that case, don’t bother responding to any of the headteacher adverts recently sitting in the TES. Such exalted positions are reserved for these types of people and I know that because it says so in the adverts.

OK, I made the bit up about ironing and taking out bins but then I’m just a plain, ordinary and remarkably unexceptional human being, so what can you expect?

One advert asks that you ‘further improve’ an already ‘fully-inclusive school’. I did wonder how you could do that by conjuring up phrases like ‘beyond fully-inclusive’, ‘inclusivity, the next generation’ or even ‘to boldly go where inclusivity has never gone before’.

Please ignore the split infinitive because ‘truly exceptional’ has probably already broken a rule (but then, if you were truly exceptional, you’d already know that).

Dynamism on steroids

It goes without saying that such a person should also be ‘relentlessly dynamic’, although the adverts say it anyway. Personally, I think there may be such a thing as being too dynamic and, surely, it’s OK to just be dynamic now and again.

Dynamism on steroids can get a bit boring for the rest of us and if you were dynamic on the first day back after Christmas or the last day of term then, frankly, I’d give you a wide berth. Witty, perhaps, even philosophical, but dynamic? Not today, I’ve got a headache.

I would like a bit more honesty to go into these adverts; then, perhaps, somebody other than the monumentally deluded may actually apply. Of course, I must have been monumentally deluded myself at some point because I’m a headteacher and, therefore, must have replied to such an advert.

However, I am distinctly ordinary I’m afraid. I’ve had my moments, I’m sure – hopefully, the tablets will sort that out – but truly exceptional? Gandhi may have been truly exceptional, Isaac Newton, Einstein and Marie Curie probably were as well... at least some of the time.

When they were handing out exceptionality I was not at the front of the queue, or even in the middle, and neither were most of you, for that matter.

So, I’d like to suggest another advert, one that may encourage more people to apply because, as I write, I’m afraid there just aren’t enough truly exceptional people to go around.

How about this one?

Headteacher required

Must have at least some experience, preferably enough to cut it with the staff.

You should be decent, reasonably honest and know your stuff but definitely not arrogant, smug, up-yourself or an empire builder.

It would help if you were quite a good teacher and not just an admin person, but you don’t need to be good at everything as long as you respect your colleagues and manage to be pleasant most of the time.

Truly exceptional, relentlessly dynamic people should not apply because, as yet, we haven’t quite managed to achieve world peace and that takes priority over our school, important as it is. 

Want the last word?

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

Carl Smith
Principal at Casterton College, Great Casterton, Rutland.

* Need not apply