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EDUCATION: Keeping your head

The puns are flying as head teachers capture the headlines. Swhat are they getting up to, asks Dennis Richards?ALL THIS publicity is going to our heads. No one I know can recall a momenin education history when head teachers were so often in the news oheadlines, should we say? Journalists are having a field day. Puns areverywhere: "heading for a fall", "keeping your head down", "headbanger" evenHead teacher shortage is one of the top stories of the day.It must seem to be a bizarre time at which to be gaining a first appointmenas a head teacher. Perhaps it feels like being part of an endangered speciesAppointments are now in place for September, but there are gaps all over thplace; re-advertisement is the norm. But it all takes time. And when, as iincreasingly the case, deputy heads are reluctant to take on the top job, eveon an acting basis, a significant number of schools are now finding themselvein a dangerous limbo.So we have what I am calling the "nouvelle cole" solution, whicis a bit like nouvelle cuisine: high-quality, but not much of it.According to Steve Mumby, chief executive of the National College for SchooLeadership, "We are entering a new era in leadership which is challenging thassumption that every school needs its own head teacher."Thanks a lot. Off with their heads, it would appear. Or how about "one fothe price of two"? The new "nouvelle cole" role is called executivhead teacher, and places groups of schools under the control of a singlleader. Head teacher shortage solved at a stroke.James Colquhoun, head teacher of St Laurence School in Bradford-on-Avo(formerly head of the C of E comprehensive Bishop Stopford, Kettering), hacome up with an even more novel solution. Deeming his 173 Year 11 pupils to bout of control before their exams, he marched the lot to the school gates antold them not to come back. (It was their enthusiasm for fire-drill practicesetting off the alarm every ten minutes, which did for them.)Perhaps Steve Mumby got it wrong. Perhaps we are entering a new era oleadership which is challenging the long-held assumption that every schooneeds its students. One in the eye for the pupils, I think.And what about the stars of the head-teacherly firmament? The knights of threalm have for the most part been getting on with the job. Only Sir Alan Steerhead teacher of Seven Kings High School in Ilford and chairman of the tasforce set up by the Government to improve pupils behaviour, has attracted thattention of the media. The recommendations of the task force are part of thnew Education and Inspections Bill. They include banning rap music. "Yourdoing my head in" comes to mind. But no one this quarter can match the notoriety of Dagenham Des. Des Smith60, is about to retire after 21 years distinguished leadership of All SaintsRoman Catholic School and Technology College in Barking & Dagenham. Hiarrest in connection with the cash-for-peerages scandal has sent a collectivshudder through the educational world.Nigel McQuoid, co-ordinator of the Emmanuel Schools Vardy Foundationattracts more controversy than any other school leader. He is a creationistand a literalist one at that. But, like Noah, he has no difficulty keeping hihead above water. Earlier this year, the school he led in Gateshead for number of years was adjudged "outstanding" for the third time; one of only 1schools in the country to have achieved such an accolade.Sadly, the parents at Northcliffe School in Doncaster have not caught thheavenly vision, and have resisted all attempts to impose a Vardy foundatioschool on them. It was a bitter and unedifying mess.Fortunately, there was, as ever, some light relief. Anthony Seldon, thestimable and amiable principal of Wellington College, introduced happinesclasses into his school curriculum. And why not, indeed?If "positive psychology" to give the classes their proper name helps uto understand why rising affluence has not made the younger generation happierthe rest of us will soon follow suit. He may well be on a winner. And happchildren will achieve more than stressed children.Hengist Brett-Taylor is the head of Bagley Hall. Saddled with a name likthat, he could only be a character in a Jilly Cooper novel. After four years oresearch, her latest blockbuster, Wicked, describes Hengists attemptto enter into partnership with Larkminster comprehensive and its "highlattractive new head teacher" Janna Curtis. There are 846 pages, but I thinIve guessed the plot. Head over heels.Dennis Richards is head of St Aidans Church of England High School iHarrogate, North Yorkshire

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