A matter of semantics?

Is it headteacher or head teacher? The DfE generally seems to favour the former, as indeed I have always done since I started collecting data about headteacher turnover way back in the early 1980s. However, in an idle summer moment I thought that I would see whether there was any uniformity on the way the term was used? In an on-line search, the Oxford dictionaries and the Collins dictionaries provide a definition using the two words ‘head teacher’ for a school leader, whereas the Cambridge dictionary used the one word headteacher to describe the person in charge of a school. So, no agreement there then. There have been a number of different threads on bulletin boards and other question and answer sites over the years than seem to have come to no definite conclusion. Some now some use terms such as principal instead, and I also wonder if it is generally accepted that headmaster/headmistress seem to belong to a different age?

Whether either to split a word into two in order to describe a position or to use the concatenated version is a relatively trivial issue suitable for discussion in the dog days of summer as we await the deluge of the results season; clearing and the start of the new school term that is fast approaching.

This blog has campaigned, albeit soto voce, for the term teacher, and by extension headteacher, to be a reserved occupation term that can only be used by those accredited by a recognised body such as the General Teaching Councils outside England in the other home nations and the College in England. This could be a morale boost for teachers that would cost the government nothing in relative terms to achieve and would reverse the ‘govian’ notion that anyone can teach as opposed to the fact that anyone can instruct those that want to be taught. Teaching and instruction are not the same occupations, as the Newsom Committee observed more than half a century ago, (in passing it was 64 years last week that Sir John Newsom submitted his report – see blog post – Half our Future) when citing evidence on the issue of teacher preparation from the then Committee charged with discussing the subject. In those days, discussions between civil servants and others with an interest in schooling often took place in advisory committees and were more transparent than today when so much happens behind closed doors.

Anyway, this was a blog about words and not deeds, so to return to the original theme for one last time; should there be a new term for someone responsible for more than one school? I have never liked the term ‘executive headteacher’ especially since it is something of an oxymoron as their role is often strategic and not executive in nature. Historically, the strategic role was that of education officers up to an including chief education officers, but that role became blurred with the creation of Children’s Services under Labour for good, if not always helpful, reasons.

Diocese often still have education officers, perhaps showing how little some have changed despite the revolution in the education world around them. MATs prefer business terms, such as chief executive and, at least like the term education officer, these titles recognise the lack of any teaching in the role. By reminding headteachers of the origin of their role we can hopefully help them to focus on what is still the essential heart of the work of a headteacher: teaching and its leadership in a school.