At my first school HODs were expected to check the quality of planning in their department. They did this by taking our planners for the day and ‘quality assuring’ them. No, I am not making this up.

In the words of my friends and I at the time, this was ‘f***ing mental’, serving only to de-professionalise us and waste the time of our HODs. You see, we were first asked whether we wanted planners (which we did, not realising the whole world of stupid this would create) before being held to account for the quality of our planning, which essentially meant checking whether we’d written a starter or plenary, whether we’d ticked off that home work had been set, and whether we were using mark sheets effectively. I kid you not: ‘Do you want a planner?’ Yes. ‘Ha! Got you!’

Now, because I liked to use spreadsheets for my mark sheets I genuinely had to sit with my HOD and go through each Excel file to explain my colour-coding system. I was even asked, and I sort of can’t believe that this actually happened, if I could provide a commentary to go with each PDF (which I had to print out) so that my HOD could interpret it. She then had A WHOLE DAY OFF to go through all of our planners. Oh yeah, and I didn’t have my planner for the day.

Some colleagues, in conjunction with their HOD, decided to start using apps on their new smartphones (this was 2009, when by ‘apps’ I mean what were essentially digital notepads) to plan, and then used the old ‘personal property’ excuse to prevent SLT delving into their planning and wasting time. However, at least one colleague – who’d ordered a planner at the start of term – was subsequently reprimanded for not having a planner to be checked using his planner.

I was particularly unlucky that my HOD was so maniacally scrupulous, but the situation allowed her to be. And I, as a young teacher, felt that this must be wrong but was powerless to stop it because this was all I knew. I attempted some passive resistance (only printing off one class’s mark sheet, responding to each request as slowly as possible, etc.) but ultimately this just drew the process out even longer.

Now, this was an extreme – I reckon – example of leadership gone down the rabbit hole: this was the Queen of Hearts on acid, a blind fury pulling up root and branch to find ‘evidence’ of something, anything; a decapitator of professionalism. But what would have happened if instead of rushing headlong into Gestapo territory, my tyrannical SLT had recognised that stepping back and letting us just get on with our jobs might have been more effective? Would the results have been worse?

In Mary Myatt’s excellent forthcoming book, High Challenge, Low Threat (which I’ve just reviewed for John Catt) the phrase ‘benign neglect’ is used to describe the opposite of this kind of leader. If you want to know more I strongly suggest you buy the book!

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