Head Lines with Jonny Mitchell: Looking for a real leader? It takes time!

HEAD LINES Jonny Mitchell.HEAD LINES Jonny Mitchell.
HEAD LINES Jonny Mitchell.
Thornhill Community Academy’s straight-talking headteacher Jonny Mitchell showed the world what life in the classroom is really like in the award-winning TV documentary series Educating Yorkshire.

Now he writes exclusively for us.

Every week he will give us his take on life in and outside school from his hometown in Dewsbury.

The thoroughly unsurprising news about the oh so predictable departure of David Moyes from Man United in the last couple of weeks got me to musing over what is expected of a ‘leader’, in whatever arena or sphere that might be.

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Society is geared nowadays towards an expectation of absolute and immediate gratification. Whether that’s teenagers with PlayStation games or even younger kids with apps on iPads, or it’s the head of a multinational corporation expecting results, far better than yesterday and by tomorrow at the latest.

In reality, of course, life isn’t like that. Like it or not – and some people may be shocked here – parts of life are a struggle. Whether in charge of a school, a supermarket, or a former footballing superpower, progress and change takes time.

The expectation of those ‘up above’ – and I digress, but surely these highly paid executives should recognise this – is that success needs to be immediate.

Ten Premier League managers – half of them – have, during this season, been relieved of their duties in one way or another, and very few could argue that many of them have actually been given that all too unfamiliar word: time. And the same can be said of schools: during 2013, around 150 of my headteacher and deputy headteacher colleagues across England and Wales were relieved of their duties in some way, shape or form, having seen their schools dive into undesirable Ofsted categories during the year. Another newsflash: unlike slaying a venomous serpent with a scythe, a failing school isn’t going to improve just because you cut off its head. Leadership – school or football management – is about long-term vision, and having time to put that vision into place.

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When I arrived at Thornhill, I was very fortunate that standards were already good, and Ofsted had recognised that. But I saw an opportunity to take the school on a journey, and saw a staff, a governing body and a student body who wanted to join me on that journey.

We’ve done some excellent work towards achieving the goals I set out back in 2011, but don’t, for a second, think it’s been plain sailing. Things happen on an almost daily basis that rail against that vision, and people and situations will rear their heads to try and disrupt the flow of progress. But it’s absolutely imperative that we work through that, and that those people who trusted in me – an untested and untried roué from Airedale – back in 2011 stick with me, and trust that I can do the job they wanted me to: to lead Thornhill Community Academy.

So I have some sympathy with Mr Moyes. Ten months ago, he had a whole six-year contract to put his vision into place, and he must have been almost salivating at the prospect of leading one of the most prestigious clubs in world football. If I was stopped from leading this school before I felt the job was done, I’d be absolutely heartbroken. The difference might well be that Mr Moyes’ tears are somewhat dried by the £5m being wired into his bank account for his abject failure.

Of course, to finish with football, Sean Dyche managed to lead Burnley into the Premier League next season – now we’re talking about a real leader!