James Ashmore is the coauthor of The New Middle Leader’s Handbook. He has spent 11 of the last 13 years teaching Secondary English and has held a number of middle leadership roles, including leading two successful English departments. In 2012, he became a specialist leader of education. At the end of 2014, he left full-time teaching to become a full-time dad, and now works as an educational consultant. He lives in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, with his wife, Louise, and their three beautiful children.
If you’re a subject leader, you have to make friends in school strategically. If you’re the head of English like me, you firstly need to befriend whoever guards the gate to reprographics needs the bounciest, sunniest, most dribblingly sycophantic version of you that you can muster. We’re talking bottle of wine at Christmas, chocolate egg at Easter, flowers on their birthday. Because they can do something that you could never do since the highest qualification you’re likely hold is in English Literature (or the one pertaining to your subject), a degree that required you to pontificate on postmodernism for 2 hours a week – they can fix the photocopier, a machine so psychopathic, so actively engaged in the utter destruction of your soul, that it makes HAL 9000 seem like a Care Bear. “I’m sorry James, I’m afraid I can’t do that,” you imagine it says as it mangles your Year 10 mock exams in its hot, metal, inky gob.
A couple of weeks back, I went to the first meeting of a new book group. I’d been thinking for ages that I wanted to join one and then, while my little lad Arthur and I sat waiting for our Saturday morning haircuts in the barber’s, one just sort of presented itself to me in a poster stuck to the antique dresser they use as a reception desk. It was for men only, it was to be held in a pub and the first book was a cracker, ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy, a shatteringly bleak post-apocalyptic vision I’d taught to some dream Year 9s about 4 years previously – how could I not go?
The standards of a pupil’s literacy should, in my opinion, be not only measured by how adept they are at reading written texts, but also their ability to read media texts, too, especially in this case film. However, when the 2016 Programmes of Study for English were published, all mention of film, indeed of most media texts, had vanished and instead we were handed a throwback curriculum full of, well, dead white dudes.
Do you feel powerful?
Because the modern, effective school middle leader is powerful, an incredibly powerful member of the school community. Not powerful like Darth Vader is powerful. I’m not suggesting you wave your hand to magically make minions do your evil bidding. I’m talking about being the powerful agent for change that the role of middle leader has become. In your hands, you have the power to design a creative, rich curriculum; the power to motivate and inspire a team of teachers and support staff; the power to drive advances in pedagogy; the power to make decisions that will change children’s lives.