They used to be corrupt and downright dangerous in too many cases, often owing their elevated positions to membership of the Labour Party or Masons . The investigative magazine 'Rebecca' regularly exposed them in the 1980's,as they crazily imposed their weird views on schools across Wales.
Schools are meant to prepare pupils for democracy, yet they are generally dictatorships, a measure of the illusion of democracy in society as a whole. While Heads may seek Staff opinions and listen to School Councils representing pupils, they will only implement policies which fit with their narrow agendas. Just one example was when the majority of staff at one school where I taught voted to change the school day, to have one lesson after lunch. The Head duly ignored their wishes and did what he wanted to.
When things go well they take the credit, when badly they pass the buck. I recall one Head who appeared in the local paper taking sole credit for a creative writing programme I had organised. Yet when the same school was heavily in debt, the bursar and one Deputy Head had to carry the can for it!
Heads get away with things which teachers are severely punished for. Some take off school whenever they want, while Staff are refused permission to attend important family events. In one school, the Head was away on holiday in New Zealand on the last two days of term and when staff returned for an Inset Day in January, they were read a New Year's greeting from the 'absentee landlord' who was still in New Zealand!
Worse still, one former Head got away with cheating at coursework. Teachers are sacked for this, but this Headmaster took a class and had them all write much the same (largely dictated) essay on 'Macbeth'. When the Head of English objected, he was told - ' You do want us to get good results, don't you?' This dedicated and inspirational man left soon after to become a librarian.
I have never worked under a Head who knew his/her pupils well and didn't abuse their absolute power in some way.
In N. Ireland (see the poem below) that abuse took the form of extreme violence. In W.Germany , the Head was a distant administrator, unable to act when the pupils took things too far. When some older pupils lifted our Mini from car-park to main road, he did nothing at first. A mechanic told us that if we'd driven it at speed this could've caused a fatal accident, yet only when our friend (the art teacher) spoke to the Head on our behalf , did he make them apologize.
I've known Heads bully staff into resignation or submission. I can think of a number of excellent teachers who have been run out of the profession because of this oppression.
Criticism is all very well, of course, but what's the alternative to these mini-dictatorships?
Well, to begin with, a true democracy is one where participation exists at every level and education should be at the forefront of this. It's no good having School Councils and Staff Meetings which are mere talking shops, or where policies are only adopted when Heads and Senior Management happen to agree.
Schools should be places where pupils and staff actually determine their everyday running. Teachers should no longer be rewarded, as is the present situation, for leaving the classroom, but any management roles could be elected on a fixed-term basis, with a return to the classroom at the end of it. That way, no-one would lose touch with pupils and teaching itself, which is so vital to the well-being of schools.
All those administrative tasks performed by Senior Management, such as absences, supervision and time-tabling, could be taken over by non-teaching staff, in the same way as finance and examinations have already passed to them.
Should schools need figureheads (or representatives), then they too could be elected on a fixed-term basis, one by staff and one by pupils, with a constant right of recall in case their position becomes untenable.
The morale of both pupils and staff would improve greatly under such a system. Pupils would feel their voices were actually heard and that they could achieve real and lasting changes and staff would no longer feel constantly under observation for any signs of failure and enormous pressure to meet unrealistic targets.
Under successive Labour and Tory administrations, there has been a philosophy that giving Heads more power would solve everything and that simply replacing one would alter the nature of schools. This is a narrow-minded and false doctrine.
The wider vision is that identity and belonging cannot be stamped upon children through uniform and Levels and grades and teachers cannot be forced by fear to feel part of a team. There must be a revolution in education, the kind that none of our politicians are proposing : schools must no longer be hierarchies.
He ruled over the school
like his personal kingdom,
introducing me to cupboards he'd built
on my first tour around.
Locally it was known as 'Farrelltown',
his son was his Deputy,
several cousins were 'Masters' ;
in the 70's, the rule was the cane.
Ruddy-faced and round as Santa
with a booming voice to match,
he cared for his blind wife ;
owned a potato farm.
When, in the harvesting season
scores of pupils went on the mitch,
I discovered he did nothing
because they were all out picking!
Lunchtimes he drank and the Secretary
had to keep him in his room ;
if she failed he would roam
to canoodle young teachers, class aghast watching.
Once I saw him lose it completely :
a boy gave him cheek and he knocked him
all along the corridor, like a heavyweight boxer
with a punchbag in uniform.
'Hit me and I'll behave!' they'd say,
somebody left a stick in my room ;
but I'm glad I never gave in
to be a torturer at that 'Farrelltown'.