Head land: The problem of the time-consuming and predictable
Zoe Heller’s (2003) novel and subsequent ﬁlm, Notes on a Scandal, turns on an illegal relationship between a teacher and a student and a destructive relationship between the teacher and one of her colleagues. The upshot is that the ‘naughty’ teacher is prosecuted and her colleague ‘persuaded’ to retire. While ﬁctional, this event has parallels in real schools. It is what I call a predictable issue. However, unlike Heller, I want to focus sympathetically on the head who must deal with this and other predictable issues. Most schools have the same number of people in them as small villages. It
is hardly surprising that crises and difﬁculties arise simply from having so many together in one place over an extended period of time. People inevitably get sick, have accidents, squabble, are nasty to each other, do not follow rules, and some do very bad things. Headteachers are quite rightly expected, and they expect, to deal with such things. However, this has become harder of late. Headteachers with devolved responsibilities can generally rely on local
authorities/school districts for advice, but they must take full responsibility for what happens on their sites. The general public now assumes that it is right and proper for them to know what goes on at all times in all places to all people, and that it is acceptable to take legal action if there appears to be a dereliction of public duty. Heads have thus found that what goes on in their schools is increasingly subject to public judgement, media attention and litigious claims. These kinds of everyday management issues feature heavily in head-
teachers’ professional association newsletters and training sessions, but they are not often discussed in the latest leadership literatures, perhaps because they were the stuff of yesterday’s management training. They do, however, often form part of ‘problem-based’ training programmes (e.g. Hallinger and Bridges, 2007) and they are inevitably raised by aspiring and new heads when they get the opportunity to determine what they want to discuss. It is important to note at the start of this chapter that predictable issues are not discussed nearly often enough in relation to questions of the desirability or otherwise of the job (Boris-Schacter and Langer, 2006, are an exception).