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Used, abused or falsely accused? NAHT Director of Representation and Advice Paul Whiteman reflects on the intense pressure members experience and the welcome support they can expect from the Association


fter 20 years or so of representing union members, first in retail banking, then senior managers in the NHS and – for the 10 years before joining the NAHT – senior civil servants, I thought I was past being shocked by the world of professionals at work. Then, last November, I was introduced to the work of senior leaders in the education system. Although many of the pressures that NAHT members face are common to other professionals, the education context adds a surprising level of complexity to the challenge. I recognised immediately the solid and committed public servants that I was familiar with. However, senior leaders in education have a frontline perspective that engenders a passion for giving children the best education and school experience possible that is truly inspiring. It is a testament to the dedication of the school leaders I have met that they are not jaded or cynical, but continue to respond and react to all that is thrown at them positively and, generally, with good humour. You cannot measure commitment and goodwill but, if you could, any debate about the salaries and conditions of service enjoyed by school leaders would grind to a halt. Likewise, I am yet to fathom how any school leader


continues to operate with any degree of confidence given the constant spectre of Ofsted inspections and their potential impact. It is not the inspection itself – most of us agree an inspection regime is essential – but what may follow. Sharks begin to circle as a school is inspected. If your school happens to need improvement, they bite. It does not seem to matter what issues have already been identified by the leadership team, what measures have already been put in place to improve the school or – most perversely – the progress being made by the team prior to inspection. The need for a head to roll to satisfy the media machine and local and national political back-biting becomes irresistible. Too many accomplished school leaders have been lost to schools that were already dealing with their issues. The prospect of forced academisation weighs heavy too. The NAHT will support school leaders considering academisation where they believe it is right for their school’s situation and where they are doing it voluntarily. But many leaders do not think that an academy is the right answer for their school; the NAHT will assist heads in this position to resist forced academisation. As one of the larger areas of national expenditure, education will always be at the political forefront. This creates opportunities for the political battlefields of local


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