Blame it on Hemingway



Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a writer. No, that’s not quite true. The first thing that I wanted to be was a fighter pilot. That was followed by wanting to be an architect. I was a good artist. The next thing I wanted to be was a writer and that is why I ended up joining the Metropolitan Police. I personally blame Ernest Hemingway for that one. At another stage in my life, I blamed Laurie Lee for painting an unsustainable picture of Spain. I have now forgiven both of them. Both of those writers did something worthwhile. Both of them convinced me that I could do likewise. Then I became a teacher.

Outcomes matter. That sounds like some trite ideology from the Department for MisEducation or a veiled threat to all classroom practitioners (don’t you just hate that nonsense verbage?). Outcomes do matter but not in the phony way that data specialists would have us think. Outcomes are about building things for the future. Think about a house that starts off as an idea before it becomes a dream. Think about how that dream becomes a plan and then how that plan gets put into action; first the foundations and then the walls. But things can change along the way; plans do not always foresee everything that lies before them. The good thing about plans is that they can change.

I never wanted to be a teacher, forever.

The vision of me as Mr Chips, although at once appealing, was not what reality would bring. Perhaps something within me wanted to be that avuncular figure who was loved, admired and cherished by generations of children and parents. Dream on! No ancient tweed jacket for me. No chronic chest complaints brought on by the chalk board. No healthy pension and fare-thee-well-handshake. And why? Because I don’t fit!

One of the most important characteristics of a successful educator is the ability to fit. Be there, agree with the most important agreements, shy away from having opinions, yet pretend to have passion. Treat the educational environment as an opportunity to make constant improvements to everything, anything and anyone, as long as anyone does not include oneself.

You see that is the flip side of ‘Growth Mindset’, growth always increases if you cut away at the right time. Today we are getting accustomed to these things called multi-academy-trusts which is really just franchising. Franchises run the world. They rely on a good idea, a few years of successful practise, an ethos or philosophy that sounds good but doesn’t have to be plausible or ever enacted. They need decent marketing that will convince others to buy into the idea rather than attract potential customers. They need followers, drones who can mumble the mantra at a moment’s notice. On top of that, they need people who have growth mindsets!

There is a Frankenstein aspect to growth mindsets. It’s based on the premise that we can continue to improve. Year on year on year on year, we can get better and better. All it takes is hard work and belief. Victor Frankenstein would have loved this in so much as he set about achieving the seemingly unachievable; defeating death itself. So, with all the brilliance and passion that he could muster, combined with all the latest developments in science and technology, he set about bringing to life his creation. Unwanted arms and legs, heads and hearts, brains and brawn were all recycled, reprogrammed and re-imagined in the vision of the new creator.

Outcome? To say the creation was a little messed up would be like saying Hitler was a bit bossy. Okay it worked out, to an extent. Frankenbaby gave a double fingered salute to death, but then came the stinger. Something was not quite right. The plans had not predicted the petulance of the inventor’s pubescent protégé.

So, what do you do when it all goes tits towards heaven?

You blame.

Blame the body parts. Blame the lack of skilled labour. Blame the bloody working conditions. Blame God. But when all else fails blame Carol ‘fucking’ Dweck for coming up with the idea of growth mindset. The problem with blame is that it releases us from our own personal responsibility. We are responsible for what we do until it goes wrong and then we look around for other factors that can take the flak.

Each school becomes the brainchild of its leader.

Their personality is imprinted on the day to day DNA of everything that happens. The senior leadership team, the middle management team, the teachers, the teaching assistants and the support staff are all manifestations of the main man or woman; Leadership at work.

Nobody sets out to fail. Well, some of us do. We are convinced and have convinced ourselves that we cannot not succeed. We fear the stigma of not succeeding. More than anything else, we are petrified of the public panning that we will receive once our failed attempts come to light. And, although many gurus would have us believe that failure is the natural root of success, we know that failure hurts.

Would you want Frankenstein as your family GP? My problem is that I am a failure flunky. There is something missing in my inhibitor technology. There is no fail-safe thermostat or James Bond alarm that warns of “thirty seconds to explosion”. So, I set about my endeavours in the fragile belief that it will all work out fine in the end. That is why I am certainly not a leader. Who on God’s green earth would follow such a fool?


The Pied Piper, now there’s a leader. Many followed him to the ends of the earth. A while back, when still a real teacher, I set a year 9 class a Christmas homework. I wrote the opening paragraph of a story and then followed that with the closing paragraph to the same tale. All the students had to do was to join them up with an appropriate narrative. I did the same. What was supposed to be an uplifting story of young boy’s dreams about his dead father and subsequent reconciliation with the death of a loved one turned into something altogether less warm. Indeed, it became a real chiller.

In my warped hands, The Piper entered the tale and spread his misanthropy. The Piper was the manifestation of evil. I researched the legend and started writing. I took it all the way back to Pan, the original piper, and discovered Syrinx, an unfortunate victim. No going back from there so I steamed ahead into the 1960s and a mental institution where lobotomies were the therapy of choice. I jumped from there to an inner-city school which was none too dissimilar to what we now have and then the tale ran away with itself…

Rats, there were plenty of them. A dried-out man, a Leatherman, who was dead from the start. Three brothers, a mother, a dead father. By this time, the festivities had long gone so I brought in a young anti-Christ. Mix that all up with the looming apocalypse and you have it; a veritable smorgasbord of a novel that flopped. I think it reached about a hundred readers. Too many plots, leaden voice and a crap publisher. Nevertheless, it was an outcome.

Anybody who has ever undergone counselling will be aware of the feeling of astonishment they get when someone shines a light on a part of their life which they had almost totally forgotten.


Madness, institutions and schools…





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