Leadership and Management VS

Neighbours vs Headteachers: Trying To Find That Perfect Blend In Our Schools

Long-running Aussie soap Neighbours bows out after 37 years on screen. Reflecting on the TV show that brought us Kylie, Jason, Mrs Mangle and wooden-legged Paul Robinson, author Max Kelly wonders whether the soap from Down Under has any lessons for school leaders. Probably not to be fair… but it was fun trying to make the connections!
The final cast picture as Neighbours filmed its last scenes in 2022. [Photo: BBC]

Ah. Neighbours. A show known and noted for familiarity, comfort and just being there. So, the shock and upset was inevitable when earlier this year it was announced that the much loved Australian soap was being axed after 37 years on screen.

Neighbours had been the backdrop to my growing up and coming of age – during my childhood BBC One would show it straight after children’s programming ended for the day; it then became a pre-cursor to tea and the news; and through University it was just there in the background, seemingly always on someone’s TV as the subtext to our own lives and dramas. Being shown twice a day certainly helped with its reach.

Photo: Grundy Television

As I settled down to watch the final episode, braced for memories and nostalgia, I started to reflect on the words in that most-familiar of theme tunes and considered the words through the lens of my professional life in schools.

Next door is only a footstep away” – absolutely the sentiment of many a teacher who sneaks along the corridor to the adjacent classroom when they find they’ve run out of glue sticks!

And so, just for fun, here is what schools and headteachers can have as take-aways from legendary TV show Neighbours:

You Can Find The Perfect Blend

Yes, the famous theme tune lyrics again. In fact, long-serving character Susan Kennedy even muttered these immortal words during a closing monologue in the final episode of Neighbours. This is, of course, what all good schools seek to find, promote and maintain – the perfect blend. It speaks of community, inclusion, togetherness and purpose. “With a little understanding” – absolutely; “Should be there for everybody” – wise words for the SLT to bear in mind; “Just a friendly wave each morning helps to make a better day” – I’ve often reflected on the barometer for the mood in the building that the headteacher’s morning disposition can cast upon the entire school: read more about that here.

So, yes, just like Neighbours, good schools can and should find meaning in the constant strive for the perfect blend. And that probably extends to the cafetière in the staffroom too, especially by afternoon play on a Friday!

Barry Crocker wrote the iconic Neighbours theme tune. [Photo: Daily Mail]

A Mix Of Youth And Experience

Ask any Premier League manager what makes an effective team and they’ll tell you the same. A mix of youth and experience – rookies and young legs for energy, enthusiasm, creativity and innovation; old hands who have been there, done that to help keep heads steady and deliver the goods. Good schools do this too with new ideas and new blood arriving in the form of ECTs and RQTs; and more experienced staff to guide the school through the cycle of school life – SATs, OFSTEDs and data drops etc.

It’s a tried and tested formula that Neighbours liked to exploit as well. In the final episodes, young newer characters brought Neighbours to a new generation with exciting storylines involving a much more diverse cast alongside the consistency of those who have been there from the start – cue Paul Robinson hobbling in on a wooden leg. It meant the show always had something for everyone – trendy for the millennials, Toadie for those of us born in the 80s.

Toadfish aka Toadie aka Ryan Moloney. [Photo: @Neighbours Facebook Page]

Realising Potential

The best schools build character. This is about success for individual children and giving them the tools and mindset to achieve anything they put their hearts to. Its about realising potential – spotting talent, harnessing ability, and developing areas to become even better. You can read more thoughts on this here.

Neighbours did the same. Over the years it became a breeding ground for success with many actors spreading their wings and finding that their potential was for superstardom. Hollywood actors – Guy Pearce, Margot Robbie, Russell Crowe; popstars – Kylie Minogue, Delta Goodrem, Jason Donovan; and TV legends – Jesse Spencer, Alan Dale and Anne Charleston all owe their successes to humble beginnings on Neighbours where their talent was nurtured and the opportunities to realise their potential was encouraged.

Leave Your Legacy

Neighbours final episode included touching scenes where characters who had long-since departed the screen returned for one final time. For actors and actresses who had passed on in real-life, flashbacks as memories for existing characters showed archive footage of the likes of Helen Daniels and Mrs Mangle. It was hard not to feel the long spell cast by these characters which continues to influence the show to this final day.

School leaders strive to create a vision for their school which echoes their own educational philosophy – one that stands the test of time and lives on in a meaningful legacy. Many such school leaders have left their mark on me – you can read more about that here – and just as in schools, the ghostly reappearance of Madge Bishop and Doug Willis in the closing scenes of the final episode of Neighbours was a fitting reminder that if you get it right for your school in your time it will live on long after you move on. That must give school leaders tremendous reassurance in their work.

Harold Bishop with the ghosts of Madge and Doug. [Photo: Ten]

All Good Things Must Come To An End

I saw a post on Twitter recently where the incoming headteacher was receiving the keys to the school from the outgoing head, replicating the same photograph the outgoing head had had taken many years ago when she herself was new.

It was a reminder to me. You are only in the moment when you are in the moment. Enjoy the relevance. As Captain Kirk once said to Picard “don’t let them promote you. Don’t let them transfer you. Don’t let them do anything that takes you off the bridge of that ship, because while you’re there… you can make a difference.” My reflections on Star Trek’s lessons for school leadership can be seen here, but the wider point I’m making is that you make a difference whilst you’re there. Legacy is a fine thing, as explored above, but there is nothing quite like the here and now.

What makes it even more precious is the fact we all know it will come to end one day. Careers close, retirement beckons, circumstances change.

And so like all good things, Neighbours too has reached its conclusion. Years of glorious and gloriously silly plot lines involving doggy daydreams, dastardly deceptions and amorous affairs have played out and now must come the new. Work long enough in schools and you’ll hear someone in the staffroom say “teaching just goes round in circles – we used to do this years ago.” In soapland, Neighbours encountered the same problem but just couldn’t quite see, that like quality-first teaching, quality first soaps keep things simple. Zombie gimmicks and bringing characters back from the dead proved one step too far and should serve as a reminder to school leaders not to get sucked into educational fads too hastily.

It was a fun ride though. No denying that.

In the final episode, fan favourite Harold Bishop was revealed to be writing a book called “The History of Ramsay Street.” Much like the school log-books of old, or perhaps akin to my more recent efforts to blog every week during a school year, the records left behind by a school are important social history. Neighbours itself may not quite get that accolade, but as it bows out it leaves wonderful memories of 37 years, and the lasting image of all our favourite characters on screen for the most poignant of endings and celebrations.

Ian Smith who brought Harold Bishop to life, even when Harold had died. [Photo: Getty images]

Goodbye, Ramsay Street, and goodbye Neighbours. We’ve learned so much because of you and we’ll miss you forever. Sort of.

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