The Frying Pan, the Fire, the Furnace and Finland

Here’s an interesting take on leadership, management and high performance teams:

“You have to enjoy your work and be content. Satisfied. You have to have an atmosphere in which it is pleasant to work. But you can only do it with time and patience. You have to have time to develop a team.”

More or less any experienced headteacher would subscribe to this view. Admittedly we’ve known the odd headteacher who – in the first flush of their first headship – thought they could transform their school within six months, all by themselves . . . but most heads are less arrogant and more realistic. What prevents most of us from turning our dreams and visions into reality at the mere flick of a switch? Circumstances, my friend. Or, if you prefer – events, dear boy.

In fact these words (above) were spoken by Jupp Heynckes, the manager of Bayern Munich – a man with vast experience of top-level management and team building in his field – interviewed in the Guardian in the build-up to this year’s Champion’s League Cup Final.

It’s worth considering these thoughts in the light of our previous blog’s focus on the Pupil Premium and Nick Clegg’s comments denying that headteachers are hounded and hassled if they fail to transform their schools within a year or so of taking up headship. Heads should be able to handle pressure, obviously, but no-one should feel like they’re working within a furnace.

Mr Clegg and others who are responsible for the governance of schools might also wish to consider whether newly-appointed headteachers are offered sufficient induction into the job, and sufficient practical support during their crucial first year in post.


There’s an interesting column in this week’s Guardian Education, written by the highly respected Mike Baker, under the headline, “The academies policy is starting to develop large holes“.

The government seems to want all schools to become academies, and thereby make themselves directly answerable to the GOVErnment. However, the majority of Primary schools seem content to stay as they are. The government seems to believe that private enterprise is better at providing services to schools than local authorities. Some local authorities apparently believe that private enterprise is indeed better at providing services than local authorities. Which is interesting.

Which viewpoint is correct?
Neither, of course. Some local authorities provide brilliant services, which are effectively managed by very capable officers who have worked in the public services for their entire careers. Others do no such thing.
Some private enterprise providers, on the other hand, are led by capable people who had a long career in local authorities before leaving to earn higher salaries in the private sector. Some private sector providers are led by career accountants and entrepreneurs who know very little about public services, about education or about schools – but know how to read a balance sheet and how to extract maximum profit for minimum service.

What would we do if we were headteachers now? Stay with the local authority or opt for Academy status? Frankly it all depends on what’s best for the school and its pupils. Does the local authority or the government appear to care about the all-round wellbeing as well as the all-round achievements of the children? Either of these? Both of them? Or neither of them – as long as test and exam results are impressive? Then again, what happens if the government changes, or if a new Director of Education is appointed? Does a school have the right to opt out of as well as into academy status?
Of course not.
Here are some typical questions that we might need to consider whilst running a school:

* Does the governing organisation – be it local authority or the central Academies department – have any view at all on the proper aims of education – or do its officers simply exist to do the bidding of their political masters?
* Do those officers have any thoughts at all on an appropriate pedagogy for the 21st Century – or is their focus solely on achieving government and local targets for attainment in tests and exams?(which don’t necessarily reflect the needs of 21st century children)
* Has the governing authority ever done anything to build the resilience and the capacity of the head and the management team? Has it ever made staff feel valued and supported?
* Has the governing authority’s personnel and human resources department, for example, proved capable of providing a competent service, or is its reputation one of continuous bungling and offering incorrect and useless advice?
* Can the governing authority’s property services officers be relied upon to offer the school strong support with building issues?
* Have we ever been offered any useful or practical advice by the governing authority on managing the school or on improving learning and teaching?
* Has most of the professional advice and support in fact come from other experienced headteachers?
* If choosing the option of academy status, would the school gain in any respect from being ‘sponsored’ and governed by people who have agendas other than the wellbeing and all-round achievement of the children? Or would the school merely be going from the local authority frying pan into the academy fire?

Moving on – if Michael Gove or Sarah Teather could assure us that their ideas about children and learning were exactly in line with the two inspirational headteachers we wrote about in a previous blog, then why would we have any fears about our school becoming an academy?

On the other hand, if our local authority had a track record of being visionary, inspirational, supportive and capable of running effective services, then why would we want to opt out of it – especially if we suspected that those to whom we would become accountable had a very different vision of what good schools ought to offer and how they should operate?

To be fair to the Coalition, and returning to Nick Clegg’s recent speech on the Pupil Premium, they do seem to be saying that they have no wish to micromanage what goes on in schools – which is very different to their New Labour predecessors, and is highly commendable.

However, Mr Gove has previously said some very unwelcome things about returning schools to ‘traditional’ methods and more formal approaches to teaching and learning. As long as these thoughts remain merely ‘advisory’ and he actually leaves schools alone to allow the professionals do what they know is right for their children, then we can perhaps learn to live with his reactionary musings.


What’s harder to live with is the fact that Mr Gove regularly cites Finland as a country that we should try to match in terms of educational success, without him having any idea, apparently, about the real reasons for the results and the success of Finland’s schools. Neither is he willing to consider the fact that part of the reason Finland does so well is that it’s one of the most socially equal of countries, while Britain is one of the most socially unequal – thanks to decades of neo-conservative governments combined with decades of neo-liberal economic policies. By all means praise Finland and hold it up as a model of excellence – but only if you’re going to admit that greater social equality lies behind its success, as well as the complete absence of fee-paying schools, combined with the fact that education policy and pedagogy is firmly in the hands of professional educators and not professional politicians or business ‘sponsors’.

Mr Gove, on the right wing the Conservative Party, is very similar to Professor Frank Furedi, founder of the Revolutionary Communist Party, on the far left of politics. Both of them believe that the only way for under-privileged and working class children to become successful in life is to become passive, empty vessels willing to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them for the purpose of becoming highly successful in timed tests and examinations – and ultimately gaining entry to universities. Charles Dickens wrote about this approach to education, and railed against it, in Hard Times, over 150 years ago!

Chapter I — The One Thing Needful
“NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!”

“Dickens was appalled by what was, in his interpretation, a selfish philosophy, which was combined with materialist laissez-faire capitalism in the education of some children at the time, as well as in industrial practices. In Dickens’ interpretation, the prevalence of utilitarian values in educational institutions promoted contempt between mill owners and workers, creating young adults whose imaginations had been neglected, due to an over-emphasis on facts at the expense of more imaginative pursuits.”   –   Wikipedia

The senior Liberal Democrats who came to the NET event this week to promote their Pupil Premium (Nick Clegg, Sarah Teather and David Laws) seem to understand that there are many factors in play that hold back the least privileged in our society, and that schools need additional funding if they are to help these children to overcome various sorts of learning difficulties and other impediments to learning.

What’s not so clear is whether they have a vision of the sorts of achievement we should be aiming for in schools (little more than success in examinations?), whether their vision is similar to that of the Finns (for whom examination success is a positive by-product of a good [3D] education and not an end in itself), and whether their vision is similar to that of acknowledged luminaries such as Sir Ken Robinson.

Answers, please.  (“One to watch: Education Paradigms”)

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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