Moving headteachers and deputes to a new school every five to seven years, as an “appointment to the authority rather than a school”, is the City of Edinburgh’s most recent proposal. Donald Macdonald, headteacher at James Gillespie’s High School and chairperson of the Edinburgh secondary heads, has opposed this latest managerial fiat from the leadership of the capital’s Children and Families Department.
Any head who can be moved, at the whim of the authority, will become the council’s kept-person and be pressurised into sacrificing the essential loyalty to school which has long characterised Scottish headteachers.It is part of a process of turning senior educationalists and public servants, into creatures of the local-authority machine.
Karen Prophet, one of the council’s senior education managers, says it is an attempt to develop a “feeling of shared ownership”, of school leaders being responsible for educating “all our children in the city” and not merely those in their own school.
In practice, the impact of such a change would be that headteachers would cease to prioritise what happened in their own schools. As they looked over their shoulders, wary of an authority with a recent record of intolerance of debate or disagreement, headteachers would increasingly toe the council line and be wary about representing their schools, their communities, their parents or their staff in any conflict.
This proposal runs entirely contrary to the proper role of a headteacher. Every school has a particular ethos.
Relationships are created over time and both establish and reflect the school’s relationship with its local community. Relationships are also created which bind school management, school staff, learners and parents.
That somewhat over-used word, ‘vision’, is precisely what flows directly from such relationships: no independence, no relationships, no ‘vision’.
There are times when a headteacher must take a stand, on resource issues, staffing matters, school discipline, and might be in conflict with the prevailing local-authority view. A headteacher who dares not argue the case of his or her own school is not a leader but an apparatchik, one who will have no respect from the establishment he or she seeks to lead.
That, I suspect, is precisely the aim of this operation, the achievement of conformity and dull obedience. It will also foster mediocrity.
It also reflects an increasing tendency among the management caste in Scottish local government to resent educationalists and the promotion within the system, to positions of control over education, of those who have never managed a school in their careers – as well as the encouragement of poachers to turn gamekeepers. Such officials value targets rather than target values. Their priorities are ‘outputs’. Their obsessions are defined by ‘criteria’. Their favourite management tools are tick-boxes.
I am reminded of a senior education official with whom I served on a working group prior to my retirement. A fellow headteacher responded to one proposal from this official (now promoted to an even more senior position) with the perhaps naïve comment, “You can’t do that.  That’s immoral.”
The official’s reply was immediate. “I’m interested in balance sheets, not morality.”
I trust that Edinburgh’s headteachers will have the moral courage to resist this appalling proposal, this balancesheet managerialism, and that their professional bodies and unions will support them fully. I trust that the broad teaching profession, as well as Edinburgh’s parents, will recognise the need to stand beside their heads on this.
Headteachers and teachers across the rest of Scotland should also beware: if not firmly rejected in Edinburgh, similar proposals will soon emerge elsewhere.

The above article was first published in Holyrood Magazine on 5 November 2012: http://www.holyrood.com/2012/11/nodding-heads/

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