Lions Led By Donkeys

Some Senior Leadership Teams (SLT) are the bees knees and cat’s whiskers. They know what they are doing and the school community thrives. They are in tune with staff, pupils and everyone else who has a stake in the school, true professionals and….like gold dust.

Then we have the SLTs that are part of the headless chicken and ostrich brigade who make school life uncomfortable and unpredictable through varying degrees of incompetence and inexperience. ‘Senior’ might imply the holders of office have special skills and authority but most times out of ten this is a teacher with less than five years experience and has ‘led’ a subject for a couple of years – frightening.

Frank Chalk (2006) summarises this perfectly in It’s Your Time You’re Wasting when he says they are regarded….

….by the rest of the staff as a bunch of buffoons. The phrase ‘Lions led by Donkeys’ was used to describe the phenomenon of mulish generals being placed in charge of British troops during World War I, but it applies equally to modern teaching. The lack of ability of those in charge to get a grip on a situation, and to take immediate, decisive action rather than simply debate everything endlessly, is one of the major problems in the State education system.

13 years later and we are pretty much in the same place and the comments apply to both state and independent sectors. It’s not just taking decisive action either. It’s the ‘basics’ like safeguarding.

Ofsted reports tell us that there are some SLTs in charge that are smooth, slick and dynamic. Then they tell us that some are a liability. This is why we need Ofsted so that SLTs aren’t allowed to ruin schools and put children at risk.

Imagine if your child was being sent to a school that was disorganised and unsafe. Imagine that Ofsted found a number of buildings used for teaching were unsafe, record-keeping for child protection was inconsistent and lacking in detail, and an incident on a residential trip had seen leaders fail to consider risks to pupils or make arrangements for first aid medication.

You wouldn’t be happy. You’d be grateful to members of staff whistle-blowing and putting children first.

This boils down to the SLT: the buck stops here.

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