Would-be heads can’t spell!

Applications for top headteacher posts can be “really badly completed”, according to a school governors’ leader.

Many schools in England are finding it “very difficult” to recruit headteachers, and that applications can be littered with basic grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, The Independent reports.

At a time when Michael Gove hopes to revitalise schools with high-calibre heads, figures show that one in four schools are experiencing problems in recruiting senior staff. Faith schools (especially Catholic), small rural schools and those ranked as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted find it especially difficult.

The problem may be exacerbated by the quality of applications, with the National Governors’ Association claiming applications from experienced teachers are often “really badly completed”, with some applicants even spelling the name of the school incorrectly. “They should check their grammar,” chief executive Emma Knights said. “You don’t expect a school leader to be told to put the apostrophe in the right place, or their capital letters in the right place, or they’ve got the school name right.”

Other reasons behind the problems in recruiting headteachers may be the need for heads in faith schools to practice the faith, or the “high stakes nature” of the role: “We are hearing more stories of heads who appear to have walked away after Ofsted reports or exam results and a deputy might feel ‘I would rather stay where I am,’” Ms. Knights added.

ASCL has recognised that filling headship posts is a problem in some of England’s top schools: “Poorly drafted applications would be a symptom of that rather than the cause of the problem,” said general secretary Brian Lightman. “With the new, tougher Ofsted framework, inspectors are focusing more forensically on the quality of teaching and therefore some outstanding schools will find it a challenge to retain their outstanding grade. Potential headteachers of the necessary calibre, who certainly would be able to complete applications accurately, will know this.”

How important is it for future headteachers to be able to spell? Share your views with us!

9 thoughts on “Would-be heads can’t spell!

  1. Just realised your writer can’t spell either! It states ‘ to practice the faith’ when it should be ‘ to practiSe the faith’ What else is there to say?

  2. I am an English Teacher and have a natural ability of being able to spell. However, not everyone is, but they then should use aids that are on the market. Always remembering to proofread, using a British spell checker. I honestly feel that Headteachers need not be excellent spellers.

  3. Oh dear. Your article on potential head teachers being unable to spell or use correct grammar contains at least two errors. I’ve only read it once, so there may be more.
    “Practice” the noun has been used instead

  4. Oh dear. Your article on potential head teachers being unable to spell or use correct grammar contains at least two errors. I’ve only read it once, so there may be more.
    “Practice” the noun has been used instead of “practise” the verb. And the incorrect person has been used for the verb “to be” in “one in four schools are..”
    I cringe.

  5. However some deputy heads of schools haven’t got any teaching experience. Eg deputy head of Spa School in Southwark doesn’t have a clue about how to run a school, she has no classroom experience, yet she observes teachers and gives a grade. I don’t know in which other profession this is allowed. It would be great to get some views.

  6. I think the problems with recruiting quality heads is the same as with the profession as a whole. There is too much stress involved. The good teachers who would do a good job know just how impossible it has become to be a successful headteacher.

  7. @Norma (re: Practice vs Practise)

    From The Grammarist website:

    The verb practise is inflected practised, practising, and practises. Even outside the U.S., the s becomes a c in the derivative adjective practicable, where practicable means capable of being put into practice. C is likewise used in the much rarer adjective practiceable (ignore spell check on this one), which means capable of being practiced (i.e., such as a piano song or a football maneuver). Practisable used to appear for this latter sense, but we find almost no examples of its use from after the early 20th century.

    This ngram graphs the use of practiced and practised in American books published between 1800 and 2000. It suggests that the verb practise has been in decline since the 19th century and is only rarely used now.

  8. Yes, this is certainly shocking. It wouldn’t surprise me in a country where English is a second language, but in the U.K.? But just as shocking that this article also contains grammatical mistakes! Yes, I noticed the “practice/practise” one – I corrected my Lao university student on that one recently!

    I think the main reason for this, though, is not lack of intelligence of the applicants. The reason is that, in the age of the Internet, we have all become slapdash and careless. We no longer take our time to do things carefully and correctly. When I was a child in the 1980s, I typed exams my grandmother’s exams on an electric typewriter for her. If there was ONE MISTAKE we would retype the WHOLE PAGE again. That was the general standard of professionalism throughout the typewriter era. We would also check the whole document very carefully after finishing, and make the test at least one day before it actually had to be given in class, so that we could again give it a fresh check the next morning.

    Now, things have totally changed. We can very easily correct errors on the computer screen without any retyping involved, but many people don’t even bother to check documents when they’re finished. We submit our documents via email within 5 minutes of the time we have finished them, rather than printing them out and putting them in the post or bringing them in person. Of course, this is partly because the human eye does not catch errors as easily on a screen as on a printout, and is even less likely to catch errors on a small laptop monitor as opposed to a large desktop monitor. And the keyboards of laptops and tablets are not really designed for heavy document typing, unlike the keyboards of word processors, typewriters, and desktop computers.

    But this article shows that this carelessness has extended even to the extent of handwritten applications. We can correct with correction fluid or a correction pen on a handwritten application – I carry a correction pen everywhere I go – but few of us bother to use this now.

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