The Demon Headmaster- Satire or Instruction Manual?
Back in the 1980’s grateful English teachers seized upon “The Demon Headmaster” as an engaging playscript for Key Stage 3 classes. It started life as novel by Gillian Cross, but it was the script that was most in demand. We taught it as a satire, a bit of light relief. Its shelf life was extended by the TV version in the nineties, and its dystopian vision of the school of the future, run by crazed, sinister and nameless aliens retained its appeal. It was a clever, far-fetched, mad idea that teachers and school leaders might have strange ideas of power and control over unsuspecting humans. It allowed for the perennially attractive idea of a resistance movement, secretly fighting against the monolithic powers of darkness and oppression. And just like “The Handmaid’s Tale”, it’s back, with added relevance for the strange times we are living through. Strangely, it’s set in an Academy, with a robotic Head teacher who has weird ideas of how to treat children and staff. Where do they get these crazy ideas from?
How we laughed at the idea of silent corridors, kids chanting oppressive mantras in the playground, a Headteacher whose big idea was the importance of order above all other things! Little did we know that it was destined to be a set text on NPQH programmes, a sort of “Headteachering for Dummies” guide. Senior leaders everywhere, who are trying to hold the line of ethical leadership against the rising tide of the New Authoritarianism, stand firm! You may get your feet wet, but the tide will turn.
Gove’s Greatest Gaffes
Number 3. The Free School Programme
Another great example of ideological correctness trumping effectiveness. At a time of unprecedented austerity, His Goviness decreed that Free Schools were The Answer, and hang the expense. If they were the answer, it must have been a very silly question. On the back of zero credible evidence (I’m discounting the report in Which magazine comparing the best school systems in the world that came between the list of best small family saloons and the best bagless cylinder vacuum cleaners) Gove pumped billions of pounds of tax payer dosh into this madcap scheme to let anybody set up a school. You could use any derelict building in the High Street (and, let’s face it, the supply of derelict buildings rocketed round about this time) to put the students in and you could get any Tom, Dick or Harry to teach them. If you remember, this was also the time of Gove’s other stroke of genius, getting ex-service veterans fast tracked through teacher training, to sort out local-authority -sponsored feral student behaviour.
There didn’t even seem to be a fit and proper person test, similar to the one that so effectively inoculates Premier League football clubs from being taken over by dodgy Russian oligarchs, drugs barons and people with pending court cases regarding human rights abuses. ( Oh. Hang on a minute…) There quite clearly couldn’t have been such a test, because the poster boy for this libertarian movement was Toby Young, a man whose brain could not cope with the onerous task of tweeting messages while considering , at the same time, all social norms of acceptable behaviour with regard to women and minorities.
In a report published in Schools Week in January this year, ( https://schoolsweek.co.uk/revealed-the-hidden-cost-of-free-schools )
it was revealed that between 2010 and 2017, the DFE spent £3.6 billion on setting up Free School. A quarter of it was spent on Lawyers’ fees. £3.6bn! That’s nearly four bungs to the DUP. At a time when class sizes are rising, teacher pay has been frozen for years and class teachers are resourcing teaching materials out of their own pockets. Value for Money, as Conservative spokespeople are wont to say. Value for Money my arse, as Jim Royle was wont to say. You can’t put a price on ideological purity.