Yesterday was a bad hair day for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. An unimpressive speech to the CBI Conference, devoid of substance and delivered in a rambling, stumbling style – including losing his place and fumbling through pages of loose leaf paper whilst muttering “blast” and “forgive me” – was followed by an embarrassing media interview where he was asked “frankly Prime Minister, is everything OK?”
Yesterday was, though, the culmination of a torrid week or so for the Prime Minister: by his own admission, last week he “crashed the car into a ditch” in his handling of the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal that saw U-turns, poor judgement and outrage from all sides of the House as well as the media and public. Since that low point there has been anger regarding the scaling back of HS2 – another very public U-turn – and last night saw a significant Tory rebellion over his social care proposals which did pass through the Commons, but not in a way that suggested this was a PM who enjoyed a thumping majority of around 80.
They say a week is a long time in politics, and perhaps there are few other comparable industries or professions for the sudden highs and lows that their particular rollercoaster brings about. And yet it struck me that headteachers often experience a similar ride on their school rollercoasters. I’m writing this on the back of a tense couple of days that have seen me turning my hand to responding to safeguarding flags, managing escalating SEMH needs, and navigating through some difficult decisions in my school steering group meetings. The week looks set to continue to deliver a heavy load with Governors, recruitment, contentious meetings and two school external assessments. Seemingly out of nowhere I’m in the midst of a tough week.
Where Prime Ministers often turn to the polls, school leaders regularly face the music on the school playground each morning and after school and are quick to sense the mood and judge the feeling. Sometimes it is stable. Content. Sometimes joyous. And sometimes it is unsettled. Just as in politics, the mood of the day helps headteachers chart their course. Just as in politics, a week can be a long time in school.
The difference between the headteachers I know and the current Prime Minister and his situation is that his problems are of his own making, not least his hair which a competent brush owner could address with ease. Politically though, we’ve witnessed a steady streak of unforced errors, a lack of foresight, and poor judgement. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not infallible, and I definitely make mistakes. But there is a level of competence which makes those occasions a rarity rather than the norm. Imagine genuine incompetence on top of the myriad of issues that just crop up to make a week a challenging. Imagine if you added your own fires to the fires you’re already fighting.
Parents wouldn’t accept it in a school. Conservative MPs shouldn’t accept it of their leader. And voters shouldn’t accept it for their country.