The times when no matter what a headteacher decides, they simply cannot win


From curriculum choices to snow closures, school leaders often find themselves between a rock and a hard place when leading their schools, as our headteacher diarist has recently experienced.

Winter is not my favourite time of year. From November through until March I mentally tick off the weeks, spend many hours glued to the Met Office website, and the Countryfile weather forecast becomes an unmissable part of my Sunday night routine. This is all because of one thing – SNOW. 

The “to open or not to open” decision is probably the aspect of being a headteacher which I dread more than any other part of my job. For me the forecast of snow brings with it a sleepless night, rocketing stress levels, sky-high blood pressure and many phone calls at ungodly hours in the morning. This is also an occasion when, whatever decision is taken, one knows that there will be parents queueing up to criticise.

The recent bad weather illustrates the difficulties faced by many headteachers. The forecast for January 18 was for heavy snow from mid-morning onwards. I was told that the buses which transport children across our large, rural catchment would take at least an hour to get to us should we have to get children home during the day. 

I was faced with a choice – should I get the children in knowing that there was a strong chance that I would not be able to get them home again safely when the snow came, or should I close the school based on the forecast and take the risk that the forecast would turn out to be incorrect? I made the decision to close the school.

My decision to not open was based, as it had to be, upon one thing only – the safety of the children in my care. Within five minutes of the closure being made public there were apparently complaints on Facebook along the lines of “no snow and the school is closed already”.

While the decision to close the school was more than vindicated by mid-morning as the forecast heavy snow arrived, I was only too aware that many parents had been only too quick to question my decision.

Of course, it is not just decisions about closing the school in bad weather that lead to parental complaints. Every year we modify our curriculum to take into account the specific needs of the cohort, changes to courses such as the demise of the short course, and external forces such as the EBacc. This year we decided to reduce our option choices from four to three for two reasons.

First, the ever-increasing emphasis placed upon good English results by employers and further or higher education. For historic reasons, English had not been given parity of curriculum time with other subjects offering two GCSEs. 

Second, a belief that children are better to study fewer subjects well. Again, the outcome of the review was driven solely by what is best for our young people. Following communication of the new option structure to parents, along with our reasons, parents were clamouring to tell me that I was wrong and that they knew better. 

These two examples illustrate what for me has been a growing realisation, namely that some parents simply will not accept that every decision I make has, at its heart, what I believe to be best for the children.

Whether it is a decision to close the school for a day or one about the curriculum, parents all too often think that they know better. The attitude of some parents is perhaps further compounded by the many negative comments emanating from government. 

For example, Mr Gove’s recent implication that headteachers are not doing enough to keep schools open during the bad weather merely serves to reinforce negative parental perceptions. The reality was that I and my senior management team spent five hours shovelling snow in order to make the school site safe – however, perhaps that is not enough for Mr Gove?

  • Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.


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