Chalk Talk: Yee hah! The cowboy spirit that's driving our headteachers


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The Independent Online

It seems the trend of headteachers likening themselves to famous American cowboys is continuing.

Remember last year Sir Michael Wilshaw, then head of the highly successful Mossbourne academy in Hackney and now chief inspector of schools, likened the post of head to that of Clint Eastwood in Man With No Name and Dirty Harry films because of the individualism shown by the characters? Well, Peter Lang, principal of Uxbridge High School – highlighted by The Independent last week because of its success in teaching pupils from disadvantaged homes – would prefer to be linked with John Wayne or Jeff Bridges or, (more accurately) Rooster Cogburn, the hero sheriff of the film True Grit.

It's the teamwork between Mattie Ross, the young girl who wants revenge on her father's killers, LaBoeuf, the Texas Ranger who links up with her and Cogburn to find them, and Cogburn himself.

Cogburn represents the grizzled old professionals who set the direction of the school, LaBoeuf, the idealist young TeachFirst graduates the school has recruited who carry the vision through, and Mattie the young pupils who are eager in its pursuit.

I was worried about Sir Michael's Clint Eastwood analogy because I wondered what would happen if a pupil stood up against him. "Make my day" would not seem an appropriate response.

I remember that, in True Grit, there is a scene in which Mattie receives corporal punishment. Hopefully, that has been erased from the memory, too.

What next? Maybe Meryl Streep for a woman headteacher. Her role in Doubt, when she was the head of a faith school getting rid of a priest thought to have abused children, showed she was on the side of those who believe heads should be able to speedily dismiss staff.

Meanwhile, on the subject of the league tables, I gather they are no longer known as the school performance tables in some education circles.

Following Education Secretary Michael Gove's decision to include more than 200 points of comparison this year rather than just the 46 of 2011, they are known as the "Gove compare" tables.