June 2016

The know zone

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    Heather Mitchell explores the key issues schools and colleges should consider carefully when managing redundancies and restructuring. More
  • Show business matters
    The evolution of school business leaders is well documented but anomalies remain when it comes to pay, a situation that’s inequitable, uncertain and lacking consistency of approach, says Val Andrew. More
  • Don't panic!
    Julie McCulloch looks at three proposals in the new White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, that have particular implications for primary schools. More
  • What attracted to teaching?
    Why did you decide to get into teaching and is it something that you always wanted to do? Has it lived up to your expectations? Here, ASCL members share their views… More
  • Make the right choice
    Looking for a new leader? ASCL’s Leadership Appointment Service can provide an experienced head to help at every stage of the process. More
  • The final act?
    Working in education has elements of farce, but could turn into a tragedy, according to former head-turned consultant and playwright Peter Campling. 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
  • Doing justice to learning
    The National Centre for Citizenship and the Law (NCCL) delivers hands-on education workshops in courtrooms across the UK by providing a unique learning experience. More
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Working in education has elements of farce, but could turn into a tragedy, according to former head-turned consultant and playwright Peter Campling.

The final act?

This morning I’m Steve, recruited by the far right and a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent. As I spit out my hatred of Muslims, Jews, gays and Romanians, the other contestant detonates the suicide vest under her burqa. I throw myself across the stage, bang my knee and land in a heap. The final scene of our play, The Echo Chamber, draws to a close, re-emphasising the dangers of online extremism.

I’m somewhere in Essex, bowing gingerly with three other actors and a sore knee to a hall full of Key Stage 4 students. Then we do the workshop prompting discussions on the issues raised in the play.

My perspective is a little different these days. I used to be a head and now work as a consultant, coach and facilitator in about 20 schools and I direct a small theatre company. I find it all very rewarding.


At the ASCL Annual Conference, Nicky Morgan called on us to alleviate the crisis in recruitment and retention by being more enthusiastic about the rewards of school leadership. From my perspective this is difficult. I see stoic school leaders doing all they can to keep up morale but many are deeply worried about money, staffing, curriculum change, buildings, results and Ofsted judgements. Their pensions won’t be available until they’ve crossed the playground on a mobility scooter and, perhaps most damaging of all, there’s a growing sense of disempowerment because so many directives have been imposed on schools. Most recently, for all schools to become academies.

You could write a play about it! Well, come to think of it… ‘The Inspectors Call’ was performed in London recently and will be at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

My theatre company operates on three fronts: theatre for the public, theatre for schools and an arts education programme for young people from the UK and Ghana. I mainly write and direct, only acting when one of the ‘real’ actors is indisposed.

I draw on all the skills and experience gained from being a headteacher – such as smiling when you’re furious (it’s just acting; most heads are pretty good at it). I’ve also learnt how to make my own coffee and operate a printer. For some the midlife crisis comes naturally; others acquire it. Mine was rather thrust upon me, but it is proving to be, well, rewarding.

My work is creative, exciting and brings me into contact with many school leaders, teachers and young people. I remain a passionate supporter of comprehensive state education and have always encouraged people towards it, but I have to confess I feel liberated at the moment. William Yeats was right when he said, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.”

The school leaders I know are in it to light fires – the self-improving system needs this – but I fear the winds of change are blowing too strongly and putting too many of these fires out.

Last word? I hope not.

Peter Campling is a former headteacher and is now Director of Trimaran Productions ( www.trimaranproductions.com). The Echo Chamber is touring schools and is available for booking.

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.