Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

The last word

Last word

As the end of term gets closer and the view outside the window becomes more tempting - it's not only students who have had enough of the school day.

Remember Victoria Wood on careers advice at school? "Our careers teacher was way ahead of her time. She was finding girls badly-paid dead-end jobs years before YTS." Present-day careers (sorry, Connexions) advisers should be warning young people against becoming education secretary. Long-term prospects are dodgy: four secretaries of state have now received the PM's strong personal backing and almost immediately jumped or been pushed.

For women particularly the DfES appears a political graveyard (maybe someone can explain Ruth Kelly's new Cabinet job to me - one hopes she's not required to win over conference audiences). The men move on to great things at the Home Office but, like Icarus, fly too close to the sun and fall. Mind you, Icarus succumbed to technical failure whereas poor Charles Clarke was undone by a departmental shambles. Cock-up rather than conspiracy, then. As for Blunkett's fall from grace... On second thought, don't go there.

Alan Johnson comes back to education from the exciting world of trade and industry (remember, he introduced university tuition fees, a measure as unforgivable now as it was then). On reshuffle day the BBC website described him as "a rising star, a Blairite and a confident media performer", and invited us to click on the link to read a profile of our new boss. It didn't work. Nothing moved, nothing changed. Not an omen, one hopes.

Of course, everything could change if Blair does bow to political pressure to hand over the keys to Number 10. On election/reshuffle day, a Labour rebel said that Blair should go now in order "to allow the new leadership to bed in before the next election". Given John Prescott's troubles, it was an unfortunate choice of metaphor.

In April, I contrived to mingle with ASCL representatives at the International Confederation of Principals (ICP) in Iceland (the country, not the freezer store) and with a Council of Europe meeting in Romania. At both I was amazed, not for the first time, by the ease with which delegates from other countries speak spontaneously and fluently in English (and, in Europe, frequently switch with equal ease into French).

How poor we Brits are in comparison. I struggle with a bit of French, Italian and German, and always try to welcome our exchange visitors into school in their native language. I wonder why, as I fumble for words, I can't speak in a foreign language and smile at the same time? This may be a male inability to multi-task, or maybe my face just doesn't smile readily when getting the tongue round foreign sounds. Whatever the reason, whenever I utter my pedestrian words of welcome, I feel I must be exuding all the warmth of a funeral oration.

It was good to read Deborah Duncan's excellent ASCL book on work-life balance (over Easter, of course, when I shouldn't have been doing anything education-related). I fully agreed about the necessity for school leaders to have a hobby. Gardening, for example.

But then I was alarmed to hear on Radio 4's Today programme that the theft of plants from gardens is becoming commonplace. No one has nicked anything from mine, and frankly I feel left out. I don't get out in the garden much, not through lack of work-life balance but because I'm lazy - and I'm a lousy gardener. But I still feel excluded from this.

Why isn't any plant thief interested in my front garden? Specifically, in the one remaining pansy (the others faded away one by one) sheltering under the wonky flowering cherry. (I hurt my back so I got the little boy next door to dig the hole - he'd taken a shine to my daughter at the time - and never could get the supporting stake to stand vertical).

Okay, so it's not much; but I feel slighted. I demand my right to have my plants taken seriously by burglars.

And finally, on the topic of work-life balance, a year 7 student was chatting to my deputy at the bus stop: "I live just round the corner from the head. I saw him out walking with his wife on Sunday." As my colleague murmured something about my efforts to keep fit, the lad continued. "You'd think, with a big school to run, he'd have better things to do with his time!"

Bernard Trafford is the head of Wolverhampton Grammar School.

The Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you would like to share your humorous observations of school life, please email Sara Gadzik at leader@ascl.org.uk We do offer a modest honorarium.

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