Once upon a time, on a coastline far, far away, I was asked if I wanted to step up.

Sorry, “Step Up”. A few of us, all within our second or third year teaching, were invited to attend a weekly session, lasting around four months or so, where we’d learn how to become better leaders: we’d find out about middle leadership, maybe do some shadowing, and then be more ready to become the new heads of year, house, or even department.

Four of us got together one lunchtime with our regulation school dinner and custard-drowned desert to decide how best to reject the offer. Why? Many reasons, the most important of which was that we didn’t have time to sit around drinking tepid cups of brown discussing how to make our CVs look like we had more experience than was actually possible. We also didn’t really like the person who was running it. But this wasn’t any kind of certified course in any case, with the final hurrah being a pub meal which the school would put on for us. And, after all, we were only in our second year teaching. There was no rush.

No, we’d all separately – and graciously – reject the offer. Which I did.

My friends, however, did not. They accepted, grudgingly, and were immediately given all sorts of texts to read on synergy and work/life balance matrices etcetera. And they all, both at the start by the end, regretted wasting their own time.

“What are you doing?”, I said to them. “We agreed to say no!”

“Yeah, but we kinda had to, didn’t we? We’re obliged to. How would it have looked if we’d said no?”

“But I did, and so now I look like the only guy who doesn’t care!”

So every week I’d walk past the conference room, and every week I’d catch a glance which pleaded for an excuse to leave. Maybe I could be their saviour? “Sorry Miss, but I really need Jim tonight. Yeah, Amber’s playing up again and he tends to be able to calm her down. If that’s okay with you, mate?”

“If I must!”

But I didn’t. They’d made their bed. In the end I’m not even sure if there was a pub meal, but I know very well how much they thought of their obligatory voluntary course. A few years later I was offered the chance to take the NPQML. Again, I rejected the opportunity. By that point I was already leading a department, and so I wondered what I could gain? It was a difficult enough job without having any extra pressure.

I did actually need some help, but in terms of support from above, not jargon-laden self-appraisal forms. A colleague took the course, which incredibly, as one of its criteria, required said middle leader to attend an SLT meeting and raise a point. Raise a point. That was all. Once raised this box could be ticked. It’s fair to say he felt insulted.

I wrote about this here (with photographic evidence!), but I’ll reproduce an actual task from the course below:

The fourth step is to create a short, internally consistent story of the future that highlights the key implications of the imperatives or drivers for each scenario. The story should develop in detail the most significant variables, and explore the practical implications and alternative ways forward.

Yuk. Really? If this is the kind of rubbish with which our vanguard are trained then don’t be surprised if boldly they ride and well, into the jaws of hell. After all, theirs not to reason why. 

Many people just want to be great teachers. They don’t want to be leaders or thought catalysts or education imagineers. I took on a HoD role too early and nearly went even further before I realised that just being a classroom teacher is actually pretty good. There’s a dignity there which is lost on some, as though being the responsible adult for, perhaps, three-hundred children of a loved-subject is less valuable than being the Cross-Departmental Interactive Whiteboard Trustee. Somewhere I once read that leaders are often the people who don’t necessarily want the position, but who’ve earned it through honesty and the respect of their peers. Maybe stepping up is something that happens not through design, and maybe those who choose to stay put deserve a little more. Ambition is not the sole worth of a person.