Chalk Talk: Just what could be the source of headteachers' stress, Mr Gove?


Education Secretary Michael Gove has been likened to many things in his time, but the image of him as a "fanatical" personal-fitness trainer is one that does not readily come to mind. The analogy was made by Bernadette Hunter, president of the National Association of Head Teachers, in her address to her conference at the weekend.

She said he was "constantly urging us all to go faster and faster, higher and higher with no heed to the underlying damage this is causing to the body or the system".

It was all too much for Gerard Kelly, editor of the Times Educational Supplement, who too a look at Mr Gove's waistline and said: "Looking at you, Michael, I'm not sure it's true."

It was a moment of levity in what was otherwise a confrontational encounter between the headteachers and Mr Gove at the weekend. At one stage in the proceedings there was a bout of ironic laughter after Mr Gove said it was necessary to find out the sources of heads' stress to tackle it. "They think you're one of them," said Mr Kelly dryly.

At this stage, Mr Gove appeared almost to decide enough was enough – a conclusion that the heads had obviously come to earlier – and sternly told the heads: "If people find it stressful that I'm demanding higher standards then I'm not going to stop demanding higher standards."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, has a stunning pair of purple cowboy boots that he wears in his spare time, it emerges. I mention this because it seems to indicate there is some sort of link between headteachers and people who represent them with the Wild West.

After all, did not Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief schools inspector and head of Ofsted, liken the role of a headteacher to Clint Eastwood – a man who stands alone and fights the good fight with all his might? Sir Michael was headteacher of the highly successful Mossbourne Academy in Hackney at the time.

Now, of course, the two are on opposite sides of the fence (headteachers are critical of the way Ofsted carries out its business). If they met, would it be a case of "this town isn't big enough for the both of us"?