So, farewell then, Theresa May. Theresa May. A strange name for a Prime Minister. So Conditional, so Tentative, so Hesitant, so Equivocal, so Subjunctive, so Uncertain. She has gone, But Nothing Has Changed.
Theresa may decide. Theresa may waver. Theresa may resign. Theresa may run through sunlit fields of wheat, Under blue skies and high, wispy clouds, Naked and abandoned. She has gone, But Nothing Has Changed.
Theresa will dissemble. Theresa will obfuscate. Theresa will not answer the question. Theresa will be frightened and alone in a crowded room of dangerous foreigners. Theresa will cry hot tears in the street, angry and confused. She has gone, But Nothing Has Changed.
This was, originally, going to start with the question, “Do you want to be led in your school by Jose Mourinho or Ole Gunar Solskjaer?” Imagine a situation where the interview process for the new Headship at your school has got through to the last stage and there are only two candidates chosen for final interview. The two surprise candidates, disillusioned with the world of top flight football management, have decided it’s time to “give something back” and devote themselves to State school leadership. Mourinho and Solskjaer have polished their Powerpoints, rehearsed their assembly and have mugged up on everything there is to know about Knowledge-Rich curricula, Zero Tolerance behaviour approaches and direct instruction. The staff room waits with bated breath. Which one would you rather have as your leader?
Bloody Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Everything was going so well
after he took over the reins at Manchester United from Jose Mourinho in
December last year. The scowling, miserable, sour faced bad loser Mourinho was
finally despatched, though not, disappointingly, on Christmas Eve. It would
have been fitting to have seen him trudge homeward through the snowy streets of
Manchester, in time to spend a grudging Christmas with his nearest and dearest,
complaining about the inadequate presents he had been bought. (“What? A pair of
socks? Don’t you know my record? Three Premier League titles. Three. Respect.
Mourinho had turned Manchester United into the Theresa May
of English football: cautious, wooden, frightened, ineffective. For May, that
was no great tragedy. There was no fall from a great height, no previous
evidence of charisma or invention or audacity. She had always been
distinguished by her mediocrity. But United had flair and panache in their DNA.
The team of Edwards, Charlton, Best, Law, Giggs and Cantona had been reduced to
shuffling, shabby incompetence. It was embarrassing.
And then the Roundhead was replaced by the Cavalier.
Mercifully released from Mourinho’s stifling safety first approach, where
players operated under a culture of fear, they responded to Solskjaer’s reign
like cattle let out of the winter sheds into Spring pasture. They gambolled.
They leaped. They ran friskily. They
played games with a sense of joy rediscovered. Pogba once again was the
midfield colossus from the French World Cup winning side. Lukaku looked like a
forward who knew how to terrorise defences and score goals. Rashford tore into teams
with direct running and close control.
And they won.
And for the blogger always on the lookout for the easy
metaphor, it was a gift from heaven. The parallel with the current two tribes
approach to School Leadership was uncanny. You could either have the New
Brutalism, in the form of Mourinho, or the person-centered,
relationship-nurturer of Solskjaer. And with Mourinho, and the Zero Tolerance
advocates, you got systems, functionalism, fear and compliance. But no love. No
passion. No commitment. And, as a direct result of that, no long term
performance. No personal growth. No sustainability. The Roundhead Mourinho was
yesterday’s man, old fashioned virtues repackaged for the modern age. You blame
everyone else when things go wrong. Demonise the previous regime for sloppy,
muddle headed progressivism. Blame the players, or the kids. Or the teachers.
How wonderful when it didn’t work and it seemed that Mourinho had been
comprehensively found out.
And at first, the human face that was Solskjaer worked
brilliantly. They began to win again. Words of confidence worked their magic
and players began to express themselves and their innate talent blossomed
again. Trust the players, treat them like adults, listen to them and all will be
well. Just like in schools. Fear will never produce anything more than
compliance. Love and loyalty, on the other hand, move mountains.
And then they gave him a full time contract and the wheels
fell off again.
Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn. My beautiful school leadership
metaphor shrivelling up on the vine with every passing game. The players, like
the naughty kids, started taking the piss again, presumably because they knew
that nice Ole wouldn’t do anything about it. Not even give them a bollocking.
There seemed to be no consequence for their actions, so why not mess around
until the end of the season, picking up a huge pay check and knowing that you’d
be off to better club in the summer. So what if Alan Shearer calls you out on
Match of the Day on Saturday night for not working hard enough? Big deal. You
could buy Alan Shearer ten times over.
And I recalled an incident from my time as a Deputy Head,
watching a crowd of naughty Year 10 kids summoned to the head’s office,
exclusions pending. With my adjacent office door ajar, I listened, fascinated,
to their conversation. It was like the scene from “Kes” with the smokers
outside the head’s door, except this time without the sweet, innocent lad who
gets the cane for nothing and without the swivel eyed psychopathic headteacher
wielding his cane like a light sabre.
As the Head breezed into his office past them, inviting them
in as he passed, one lad turned to his mates and said, sotto voce, “Watch me
get out of this.” And he did. Ten minutes later he walked out, having given an
Oscar winning performance as the contrite sinner who had seen the error of his
ways, the head’s chummy words of encouragement ringing in his ears. As he
turned to go down the corridor, I caught, through the crack in my office door,
the smirk the lad gave his fellow ne’er-do-wells. It was chilling.
The Head went home that day feeling good about himself. He’d
shown his human side. He’d connected with a difficult child in difficult
circumstances. He’d established a relationship and saved the child from another
exclusion. But actually, he’d let the child and the family down and the rest of
the school who had to field the consequences of his maximum tolerance everyday
in the corridors and the classrooms.
Most of the time the guy was a great head. He did a very
good job at a difficult school. He emphasised relationships at the same time as
cracking down on behaviour issues and he definitely improved the school. If you
had to categorise him according to the metaphor, he would definitely be a
Solskjaer rather than a Mourinho.
You remember that wonderful piece of research about school
leaders from a couple of years ago that categorised Heads as Architects,
Surgeons, Philosophers, Soldiers and Accountants? The one that disappeared
without trace because the coming wave of movers and shakers didn’t like the
conclusions? All classroom teachers would have been able to recognise the
categories. Many headteachers would have raised a sceptical eyebrow because
they like to think of themselves as visionaries or missionaries or messiahs.
Sorry Heads – gross and cheap stereotyping there. I know many of you are
fabulous human beings, particularly those of you who are reading this blog.
Follow the link below. It deserves to be resurrected and followed up because
it’s never been more important than now, when Surgeons bestride the Education
Stage, lionised, rewarded. Mourinhos all of them, at the height of his powers,
before he got found out.
There is another way to do it. Not Mourinho or Solskjaer.
Not iron discipline or trendy, progressive
chaos. There is no need to polarise in this way. Let’s have ethical
leadership that consults, engages, trusts staff, listens to students. That
establishes and maintains good behaviour without treating children like
convicts. That takes learning seriously without being enslaved by examination
outcomes. That has a curriculum that serves the children, not the floor
And, to finally flog my football metaphor to death, the
beautiful game has, as it always does, the answers. Or some of them at least.
There are four English teams in the two major European finals this year. And
guess what? Three of them are managed by outstanding leaders: Guardiola, Klopp,
and Pochettino. (Sorry Sarri – that chainsmoking hiding your tab from the
cameras is just too Andy Capp and 1970s for you to be a serious candidate).
All lead by example, know their players, treat them like
adults, give them responsibility, insist on the highest standards, allow people
the space to make a mistake, turn them into better players. So no, my original
question was wrong. Do you want to be led in your school by Mourinho or
Solskjaer? Neither. Give us a version of Guardiola, Klopp or Pochettino
instead. And watch everybody fly.