Back in the day, when I started teaching at a Sheffield school, the job of head teacher was slightly different.
Admittedly, it was a few years ago. But we’re not talking about the days of chalk and corporal punishment here, we’re casting our minds back to the dawn of the projector and smart board. In my first job, still very much learning the trade, I can remember period three on a Thursday morning very clearly indeed.
I was teaching in a humanities room and next door to me the person in charge of the class was the head.
It was one of four lessons a week that he delivered to kids at the school, two of them at Key Stage 3 and two for GCSE classes.
I didn’t particularly like the head as a person, the decisions he was taking or the way he treated some of his staff. But I did respect him on those Thursday mornings when he rolled his sleeves up, left his meetings behind and got back to the most important thing about the job – teaching young people.
I’m told that over the course of the next decade the lessons he taught tailed off. A couple of years later it was just the two lessons and then eventually his timetable was freed up of lessons entirely.
Like many headteachers across South Yorkshire, his role is now purely a management one. The amount of time that deputy heads and assistant heads spend in the classroom is also on the decrease.
Some heads are different, though. They insist on keeping some of their classes.
Anybody watching the BBC series Our School will vouch for the passion displayed by the head of Firth Park, who still has a GCSE class on his timetable.
Like some other headteachers, he kept the lessons when he didn’t really have to. But he did so, firstly because he enjoyed it, but also because he feels passionately about his subject and wants to keep up to date with teaching.
It’s solid leadership which builds a positive, child-first reputation. Sadly, this is not the case everywhere.
In one South Yorkshire school this week there was a recruitment crisis in the department the headteacher used to teach in.
A couple of teachers were off ill and serious gaps needed to be plugged. The headteacher filled the gaping holes in the timetable – not by dusting off his textbook and reaching for his whiteboard pens, but by ringing a supply agency and paying for a teacher to come in and do the lessons.
It was an opportunity missed. An opportunity gone begging to show solidarity with the other teachers, lead from the front and gain a whole load of respect – from both staff and students.
I’m not suggesting that a headteacher has enough time to teach for a couple of days a week, but I am a believer that they can make a contribution.
If there is an emergency as far as illness is concerned, many headteachers could do more to contribute.
It’s not so unbelievable that a headteacher should stand in front of a classroom for one or two periods a week. I know headteachers who regularly do cover, and I also know schools where such a situation would be extremely unlikely to happen.
The differences are just as stark at primary schools in the city. Some teachers and parents complain about never seeing their headteacher. They are always off site, attending meetings, pursuing academy matters or training people at other schools.
Other heads are more than willing to support staff and save money when there are shortages, teaching lessons for part of a day.
A headteacher I know taught for a whole week when a member of staff was ill and thought nothing of it.
Headteachers need to be seen. They need to be seen by staff, children and parents.
That means getting out in a morning to greet people arriving at the school and standing at the door saying goodbye at the end of the day.
It means delivering assemblies, holding parent meetings, being accessible for appointments – and it means getting into the classroom to teach from time to time.