About Bob

Born in Scotland (St Andrews) although three months later the family moved to Bombay, India (now Mumbai) so I was very nearly Indian, which I would have loved.
I have two older sisters Sally and Fiona. Tragically there was a third, dear little Teresa who I never met, as she was a cot death victim before I was born. 

During my youngest years I had chronic asthma. There were no such things as inhalers and I just had to get on with it. The only treatment was to insist that I kept active and played sport when “fit” and, if a chest infection set in during an asthmatic episode, I was given antibiotics. I remember once having a particularly harsh time of it at home when the doctor called. He took one look at me and rushed back downstairs saying, “Just hang on. I’ve got the very thing.” He came back up with a little box and a big needle, which he filled, squirted a drop into the air and then plunged the whole thing into my chest. It looked to me, through my eight year old eyes eyes, as if I was being impaled through the heart just like in those old vampire horror films. The effect was instant and I couldn’t believe the relief at simply being able to take a breath. That was the first time I heard of adrenalin. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, it could not be used on a regular basis.
My dear, long suffering Mother would sit up through my rough, long nights and tell me stories to try and distract me from gasping for breath. I loved them and have tried to keep her spirit in my heart throughout my career. The first tale in my “Long Stories” section (“Learning To Believe”) came from her and I have passed it on to every class I taught.

On the family’s return from India we were lucky enough to live in St Ives, Cornwall. I was so happy. I went to Humphry Davy Grammar School in Penzance. Perhaps my teachers might not have agreed but I loved Maths, Physics, Chemistry and also History. Unfortunately I didn’t fulfil my potential. It was an all-boys school and the massive distraction of sport (any sport) was too much for me. I was always daydreaming and was quite capable of being a pain.  Indeed, my tale about the cane (Medium Tales -“Teenage Years and The Cane”) is always a big hit as an assembly story.
`Girls? I was clueless.

I then took a degree and went on to take a master’s degree in economics at Manchester University. To me, both were a waste of time and I could write a book on the reasons.
Finally, student days supposedly over, I attended my first interview for a job (for Boots the Chemist). I was still super confident and optimistic. I must have been insufferable at that age. I travelled to a hotel in York, sat down and was asked, “Well Mr Buntine, how can you make money for Boots the Chemist?” I sat there like a goldfish with my mouth opening and closing but with nothing coming out. After what seemed like an eternity, I asked, “Is it worth me staying?” to which the answer was a simple, “No.”
I then asked, “If I go now, will I still get my expenses?” (I was a penniless student.)
The answer was, “Sign here.”
Outside the door, I was a much humbled individual, coming to terms with not being able to answer the very first question of my only job interview. So what now?
Well, all through school, I had been good at Maths but our top set Maths teacher, who was a smashing guy and a brilliant mathematician, kept making leaps in his logic which I found difficult to follow. I used to go home at night, puzzle it out from the text book and think, “Why didn’t he say that?” I had of course discovered an important principle of the educational world: Top knowledge does not always make a top teacher. Unfortunately, many educational leaders of today seem to have missed this point. I have carried this understanding throughout my career, and, when forced to choose at interview, have always appointed the right character rather than the best qualified. Also, when standing in front of a class, I have never forgotten how very frustrated I  had felt as a child when, for one reason or another, I was suddenly left behind everybody else.
This frustrating inability to initially comprehend my Maths lessons, something I was good at, stuck with me throughout my youth. I was sure I could do better. At the moment of that interview failure I decided to apply (very late in the year) for any places left in the country to study for a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). There turned out to be two left nationwide. Both were in Hull and both were for a “middle school” course. I had never heard of middle schools but I went for it. On such is our fate decided.

I have 3 memories of this teacher-training year.

Firstly, I found the lectures boring and totally irrelevant to teaching practice with real kids in the classroom. During the first 6 weeks of lectures I was brain-washed by idealists (who had not been in a classroom for years) into thinking the children would sit there and eagerly await pearls of wisdom to spew forth from my mouth. During the first week of my first teaching practice I was hung, drawn and quartered in the classroom and I still have nightmares about that experience now. It was only over the next weekend that I sat down and began to think about my personal experiences of school. I realised that I too would have behaved badly for me, as I was so boring! From that moment on I decided to ignore all the lectures, consider every child as being like me (a challenge) and from then on life improved dramatically. Very sadly, just a few years ago, when my youngest daughter was training to be a teacher at a very respectable university I came across the same cloud cuckoo idealism in high places. I find it hard to believe. The malignant effect of such people is beyond measure.

Secondly, my final teaching practice was in a middle school in Grimsby. I grew to love that school. It was in a solid working class area where many children would not see their Dads for weeks or even months at a time when they were away on their trawlers. The kids would gradually become ever more penniless until suddenly Dad arrived back and it was like Christmas. However, there was a down side. My mentor from the college seemed to live in his own little world. He would sit observing my lessons and give me clear directions on how to proceed. It seemed that success in teaching depended on one thing and one thing only. I was given strict instructions that exactly half way through each lesson I had to open a window in order to give the children a short mental break. I was told that he would fail me if I did not do this. Hence we had to synchronise our watches at the start of a lesson and I had 30 seconds either side of the mid-point to act accordingly. As he never saw two lessons in a row, I did not have to worry about what to do if the window was already open. I simply made sure that every time he watched me teach the window started off shut. As it was a hot June, this did not always seem like a good idea but the oven-like classroom temperature was never mentioned. After his first monitoring visit I told the children about this and told them not to let me forget. Those with watches would start looking at me with ever more meaningful looks as the deadline grew close. They were a great bunch. It was my first experience of shared purpose, enjoyment and laughter with children based on simple, firm boundaries that were never required. It was in Grimsby that I knew I had found my calling.
As for my mentor, I could not help but notice the other teachers on the staff poking fun at him all the time. After a while, I asked about this. They told me they all knew him, as he had taken his probationary teaching year at this very school. It seemed he was so poor they were still telling stories of his desperately inept behaviour. Needless to say he had failed. I was shocked. This was the person who was telling me how to become a successful teacher and had the power to fail me! I had heard of the old tenet, “If you can’t do anything else teach”, indeed, it applied to me! However, I now re-evaluated this and modified it to, “If you can’t do anything else teach and if you fail at that then teach teachers.” I will make no further comment.

A third memory is of the local launderette and nothing to do with teaching, nevertheless it remains with me. It was just round the corner from a pub called The Polar Bear on Spring Bank West where we had a flat. Being a student who lived out of just one room, all dirty clothes were dumped in a pile on the floor next to the bed. Once a week this would be scooped up into a bin bag and taken for a wash. I always felt out of place in that launderette. I was clearly not part of the gossip group who seemed to have adopted this venue as their social hub. One day I walked in and forced the washing (always far too much) into the machine and set it going. I then sat and read a wonderful book called “How Children Learn” by John Holt. It was the only prescribed book that I enjoyed reading that year and I would recommend it to anyone. However, after a couple of minutes I noticed a rhythmic metallic clunking emanating from my machine. Gradually everybody’s attention was drawn to “my” washing machine. I sat watching in clueless dread. Very gradually, as the cycle continued, the source of the disturbance edged its way to the front window of the machine. It was clearly my big, fluorescent green alarm clock with two big bells on top, turning first one way and then the other with the cycles of the machine. In the chaos of my room I must have scooped it up with the washing. Within five minutes it seemed stuck in a rotation that centred on the glass window of the machine, as if trying to get out, whilst eagerly displaying its location to the world. The whole launderette was mesmerised as this clock continued to go through the machine’s washing cycle, including the final spin. All eyes were upon me as I emptied the washing and took out the clock. I was horrified to see it had stopped. I had no money for a new one and would definitely not get up in the morning without it. A flash of inspiration then followed. The clock had been on the rough end of a shaking but could probably be mended. Hence I decided the biggest problem was that it would rust. I concluded that, at all costs, the clock must be thoroughly dried out. It only took a moment to consider that, if I put the clock in the big industrial drier, then centripetal force would keep it on the outside of the spin at all times; a bit like swinging a bucket of water round and not spilling a drop. To the apparent amazement of my “audience” I placed my clothes and clock into the drier and set the big drum spinning. I even put in an extra 5p piece to be sure. Sadly my calculations were flawed in the extreme. The weight of the clock more than offset the slow spin of the drier. Each time the clock reached the pinnacle of the cycle there was a deafening CLANG! as it dropped to the base of the drum and instantly restarted its half-journey to the top. I sat there and thought, “Oh well, in for a penny in for a pound.” It seemed to me that any hope of ever getting the clock to work depended on getting it dry.
There were three results from this pantomime. The alarm clock never worked again. On each weekly visit to the launderette I was the subject of many sideways glances and whispers. My student neighbour had to bang on the wall in the mornings to get me up.

The following year I took my first job offer at New Milton Junior School in Hampshire, teaching a Y6 class in a primary school. My new wife Catherine and I lived in Christchurch. We had no money, so I managed to persuade one bank to lend me £1,000 (equal to £9,000 today). I then lied to another bank saying it was my own savings and we were given a mortgage. We had no carpets or furniture. Our first settee was “acquired” when I bribed two boys with 10p to take it off a bonfire and carry it to our living room. Our first washing machine (twin-tub) was rescued with much difficulty (we couldn’t afford a car) from a nearby dump. Somehow it managed to survive the next four years held together with paper and string. Having two debts to pay, we did not go out in the evenings for two years. I thoroughly enjoyed those two years. I met wonderful pupils and learnt many lessons, some of which appear in my tales. My one extravagance was, on payday, to visit the local book shop and buy a novel by Charles Dickens. I managed to work my way through all his famous titles in these 24 months. As a tribute to this period I have still have my first month’s payslip with a take home pay of £143.94. I have kept it all these years.

I then applied for and became Head of Science at an all-boys middle school in Sheerness Kent. I was there for eight years. After three months of feeling disoriented (the same after every move) I came to love the place and still regularly visit.
There is so much to tell but I will only mention two details.
The first concerns the start to my first day. I was sharing a two-roomed block with the Head of Year 8. He was very experienced. We both had classes to collect from the playground and as we walked out he said to me, “Just line your lot up alongside mine outside the door and give me a moment if you will.” I duly obliged and, with both classes standing on the pathway between two lawns, I watched as he walked up and down his class of 13 year old boys. They all seemed very wary. Suddenly he lashed out and clipped one boy around the ear and knocked him onto the grass. He shouted, “That’s for nothing! Just see what happens if you try something!” Quickly reverting to a much calmer voice he stood to attention and said, “Right let’s go in shall we?” Gradually the poor, young victim got himself up and joined the back of his class queue. The rest of the boys seemed (to me) to breathe a sigh of relief. Later on, I made enquiries about the number of complaints that might have been levelled against my colleague and classroom neighbour. The reply surprised me, “Complaints? Complaints? The parents are queuing up to get their boys into his class. He taught their Dads.”

My second tale proved to be a career long revelation.
One morning I entered my classroom at about 7.45 a.m. to find water pouring through the ceiling. I rescued a few bits and pieces and then ran across to the main block and just as I got there my very experienced headteacher arrived. I ran to his car and told him what was happening to which he said, “Let me see.”
On arrival he surveyed the scene and I asked, “Shouldn’t we phone a plumber?”
“Not yet, not yet” was his reply. I was confused.
“It’s bad isn’t it?” I asked.
He almost seemed to be speaking to himself when he said, “Not as big as I would like,” as he absentmindedly picked up my rescued items and threw them back in the middle of the water. He then looked at me and said, “Stay here.”
I waited patiently as, over the next 40 minutes, teacher after teacher came to my room with ageing resources and merrily threw them under the torrent of water.
When I saw him  later that day he said, “There’s nothing like a good flood. The insurance will do us proud.” In those penniless days, a lesson that was not wasted on me.

After 5 years I started looking to move on and was (under a much older system) promoted from Scale 2 to Scale 3 (with extra responsibility) by promising to stay.

Two years later I decided that honour was satisfied and applied for deputy headships and (once again) failed abysmally. My first interview was back at my original school, New Milton Junior. Quite simply, I didn’t understand what was required and floundered on the management questions. Common sense just wasn’t enough. I had to have the right language. This led me to spend the next few months going (where possible) on all the “right” courses, after which I felt ready to try again. So I set off into the world of interviews armed with weapons such as:

  • “I hear what you are saying.” Real meaning: Forget it.
  • “Let’s take that and put it on the back burner for a minute.” Forget it.
  • “We need to be on a level playing field.”  I’m losing this argument.
  • “Let’s throw that against the wall and see if it sticks.” Quick, delay and think. I don’t like where this is going.
  • “Right. Let’s run that up the flagpole.” Why didn’t I think of that?
  • “I’d have to collapse my schedule to meet that deadline.” CAREFUL! Sounds like a lot of hard work for me.


There are of course many more of these management gems and it was great fun spotting teachers who had been on these courses and become new believers in the bureaucracy of management speak. In my experience most (but definitely not all) of these “new believers” were clever people but poor (often boring) teachers, who were looking for a direct route out of the classroom. I found it all desperately sad but true that inadequate classroom practitioners could learn how to “talk the talk” in order to be promoted to managerial positions of great influence, whilst so many brilliant teachers didn’t even consider applying because they loved their jobs and were loved back. However, I can’t really speak, as I was applying to move on in the same way. Anyway it worked, as the new “language” tended to go down well at interviews. I will tell you about just two of them.

The first was at a primary school in Broadstairs.
What a wonderful seaside town. I walked around for an hour and fell in love with the place. It reminded me of St Ives. Eventually I went to the school. On entering I was surprised and disappointed that, despite being a school day, it was closed to the children and empty apart from some sort of Gym Club taking place in the school hall. There were lots of young girls up to about 9 years old in their leotards. It was run by the (male) caretaker. No other adult was present. Now I’m sure everything was all above board and well-intentioned but even in those less PC aware days, I had extremely uneasy feelings about no qualified teacher being present.
There were four applicants for interview. We were collected together and introduced to the acting deputy, a very pleasant lady, who then showed us round the school. She was quiet, smiling and clearly a very good teacher. I liked her. We were told we would not meet the headteacher (let’s call him Mr Smith) until we were interviewed.  We toured the school and viewed one empty classroom after another. It seemed as if the very soul of the school was missing. We were all struggling to get a feel for the atmosphere and purpose of the place. Normally, applicants would store up extra interview questions during a tour but I had none. Then we walked past the HT’s office and something caught my eye very prominently framed on the wall outside. A local reporter had visited the school and here in pride of place was the local newspaper’s middle page spread. There was an interview  with the HT in the middle and pictures of each year group round the outside. Firstly, in the top left, there was a photo of reception children all standing with Mr Smith in the middle. The photos then went round in order. They were:

  • Year 1 Pupils standing round Mr Smith
  • Year 2 Pupils standing round Mr Smith
  • Year 3 Pupils standing round Mr Smith
  • Year 4 Pupils standing round Mr Smith
  • Year 5 Pupils standing round Mr Smith
  • Year 6 Pupils standing round Mr Smith

In the middle of the spread on top of the interview with Mr Smith was another photo. By now you may have spotted a pattern and be able to guess what it was. Yes, the centrepiece was a solo portrait of Mr Smith. No other member of staff was to be seen.
This glimpse into one primary headteacher’s little world was the first time I considered the possibility (in my personal and humble view) that petty, self-congratulatory, pompous and despotic primary school headteachers might exist. Very sadly, I was to meet others along the way (read on) and I refer to a few in my book. Suddenly I felt desperately sorry for the staff of that school, who (once again in my view) were being kept away from us. Also I now had a burning question for the acting deputy. I caught up with the group who had walked on and asked her, “Are you applying for the job?”
Out of the blue her voice was raised and with great feeling she said, “Not f*****g likely.” She instantly returned to her polite and charming self and we all realised that no other questions on this topic would be answered. We all felt this poor woman might already have overstepped a mark and said too much.
Now, I very much wanted a deputy headship but right there and then my earnest desire was to fail the interview and get out of that place as soon as possible. The trick was to achieve that, whilst not totally blotting my copy book for any possible future interviews in Kent, as an inspector would be present. In the end Mr Smith took an instant dislike to me and I didn’t have to worry.

As it turned out my very next interview was at Delapre Middle School in Northampton under the leadership of a very fine headteacher, John Bedford.
The difference with the previous interview could not have been more marked. On entering the school it became immediately apparent that straight forward common sense was the order of the day. Also, everybody seemed relaxed (except me) and the school was running just like any normal day. The school was completely open – no secrets here. I was impressed. Already I considered I had seen the building blocks of a highly effective school. It was also clear that any new fads or trendy thinking were looked at individually and if they were considered to be of no help in the classroom they were dismissed. There was no unnecessary wish to impress one local inspector or another, just a desire to effectively teach the children. It seemed to me this was my sort of school.
The final clincher for me was being asked to wait for a couple of minutes in the staffroom during a break-time. I walked in and it was a riot of activity, humour and laughter. One male teacher (you know who you are) was crawling on all fours barking like a dog and biting a female member of staff’s leg (you also know who you are). It was all desperately inappropriate and I loved it! It was very similar to the school I had just left. In my view, any truly creative and effective school must have humour and some degree of lunacy at its heart without a petty tyrant and killjoy of a headteacher to give disapproving looks.
I wanted this job.
I believe there were 6 candidates with two being asked to leave during the first day. At about 3.00 p.m. John Bedford told us that the first day was over and that we must arrive at 09.00 in the morning. As we were about to leave he said, “I don’t know what you will be doing this evening but perhaps I can give you some advice. Do not visit a pub called The Criterion in the town centre. I am a magistrate and just standing outside there is likely to get you prosecuted for the wrong reasons.”
As the four remaining candidates left, I fell in with a chap who came from Birmingham. Neither of us had visited Northampton before so we decided to meet for the evening. What was to be the venue? Well, you’ve probably guessed it, The Criterion of course. After an introduction like that we had to see it. In fact it was the only place we knew! I wish I could remember his name. He turned out to be a great guy and we got on very well. I often look back and wish we had stayed in touch.
I will not bore you with any more details. In September 1985, I was lucky enough to become the deputy headteacher of Delapre Middle School.

I will relate only two stories from those days, which hopefully give a flavour of my training. It suited me perfectly.

Firstly, I was full of energy and it was made clear to me that John was preparing for his retirement. I was to use my vigour to lighten the load whilst learning along the way from a very well-respected and experienced headteacher. To me it was a perfect arrangement.
One June morning, two years later, I was in school at about 8.00 a.m. It was the most useful time of the day, as I could catch up with paperwork before the children arrived. As usual there was the early morning game of football in the playground. Each day the same group of boys would arrive and take advantage of an empty playground. Some HTs I met disapproved of this early turn up but in my view we were doing the area and the boys a service. It also had the added benefit of ensuring these boys looked forward to coming to school.
Suddenly, at about 8.20 I heard screaming. I went out into the playground. There was a large dog chasing the kids around. As I started out across the playground the caretaker saw me and said, “Never mind that. Water has erupted in the Year 8 toilets. If we can’t fix it at least six classes will have to be sent home.” It is at moments like this that I have the greatest admiration and even jealousy for the female mind and its ability to multi-task. I looked at the boys, decided they were all pretty fit characters and seemed to be doing a remarkably good job of avoiding the chasing dog. I ran back into school and past the main entrance on my way to the toilets. At that moment, stood there with a face like thunder, was a well known mother Mrs Sturn who saw me and shouted, “Why did you scratch my daughter’s neck yesterday? I’m taking this down the educashun! It’s strangalashun.” I stopped, took her to my office, said I would be back in 5 minutes and went to look at the toilet. One glance was enough. I ran back with the caretaker to the school office to phone our plumber just as John Bedford walked in. I boldly strode up to him thinking to myself that finally, the cavalry had arrived.
I said, “There’s a dog in the playground trying to bite the kids. The Y8 toilets are being flooded and we may have to send kids home. Oh! Also, Mrs Sturn is in my office saying I throttled her daughter yesterday. Strangely, a rather pleasant thought.”
He looked and gave me, what I can only describe as his hardest stare. He then said, “Have you put compost on your tomatoes yet?”
Now, during the previous two years at Delapre I had attended every management course possible including some (incredibly boring) weekends. In all that time I can honestly say I had not heard anything better. I learnt a lesson that day that I took forward with me throughout my career. If you find yourself unsure of my conclusion, I am afraid I am going to leave you to puzzle it over. All I can say is it has served me well. Thank you John!

The second story of John’s wisdom concerned a local middle school that was shutting down. All Middle School HTs were invited to a meeting at the doomed establishment to look round and be instructed on the complicated procedure of how to apply to the LA’s “Resource Re-allocation Team” for spare items. As we went into the building we saw a group of brand spanking new staffroom chairs that were about to be taken away to an LA store somewhere. At that time all schools were hard up and we were no different. One thing we desperately needed was replacements for our threadbare staff chairs, which were embarrassing. John looked at the new furniture and turned to me saying, “Have you got the Post-It Notes and pen I asked you to bring?” I replied that I had and passed them over. He then said, “Go and distract that chap over there for me please.” I knew better than to quarrel and I also liked to see a master craftsman at work. I happily settled for my role as accomplice. I talked to the chap who seemed to be in charge of the removal team. I made sure he kept his back to John with queries about where all this stuff was going to be stored. Eventually I saw John wander away and stand on his own. I thanked my new friend and returned. As I passed the chairs I noticed they all had Post-Its on them saying, “Delapre Middle School.” We attended the lecture on how to apply for resources, did nothing and returned to school. Three days later all the new staffroom furniture was delivered to the school by the same LA removal men. I was finally in touch with reality!

In January 1990 I was lucky enough to become the headteacher of Delapre Middle School after JB decided to retire. I am under no illusions that, if I had not had his support I would have failed and moved to another school.
Desperately sadly, just months later, I was interrupted during a Y8 Maths lesson to be told this dear man had died whilst on holiday in France with his lovely wife, Joyce. It seemed so desperately unfair. I walked back into class and all the kids looked at me. They knew something was wrong. At that moment they could have caused mayhem but, as ever, they fell in with my sadness and were as good as gold. I promised myself then that I would retire early.
A mass of experiences and their conclusions during the intervening years are included in my book and some in my tales. I was never bored. I will not include them here.

Eleven years later I was sitting in a Local Authority meeting for middle school headteachers when the officer in charge said out of the blue, “I want you all to know that Northamptonshire Middle Schools have the complete confidence of the authority.”
Our jaws dropped. My neighbour in the audience, a great football fan and well-experienced in such football parlance and what it meant for managers, leaned across and said, “We’re finished.” Well, truthfully, he didn’t actually say “finished” but it did start with a capital “F”.
It wasn’t long before I happened to be at Educational Headquarters when a group of Lower School Headteachers that I both knew and respected, came rushing out of a meeting room shaking their fists in the air, smiling and saying, “We’ve won. We’ve won!” I kept out of the way but confirmed in my mind that all the middle schools would close. Sure enough not long after that the “official” news arrived.
I cannot explain the desperate melancholy of the immediate future. A Delapre “family” that included everyone from our wonderful cleaning staff to our governors had been together since long before I arrived had welcomed me into their midst, was to be split asunder. We were a school of 650 pupils and there were a lot of people who would have to say goodbye. All middle school teachers were to be redeployed somewhere but headteachers had to be sacked and so, along with every other headteacher colleague, I started considering my future. However, after about a week I was contacted and told that the LA would support me if I would stay and start a primary school in the same building. Three other middle school HTs were given the same opportunity. Whilst the idea of teaching 4 year olds terrified me, I had over a year to adjust and considered myself to be very lucky to be offered certainty amidst confusion. I accepted.
During the next two years of transition I have four abiding memories:

1. So many absolutely first rate middle-school teachers asked me to give them poor references, as they wanted redundancy (a very good deal). Whilst I sympathised, I had to refuse. Any hint of “game playing” would have led to an immediate loss of redundancy rights. Also, the school was viewed as very successful, so they simply could not be that bad. On the other hand, I had the unions contacting me regularly telling me to reassure those very same teachers that jobs would be available and that the unions would fight for them. I wanted to shout back, “Don’t you dare fight for them. Have you any idea what a good deal they will get if they are made redundant? If they get a job I’ll be lynched.” Instead I had to keep quiet and play along. So I watched with admiration as some of the best teachers I have met managed to fail their interviews. I think they mastered a technique. It must have been hard work. I am very proud to say that we still all meet up for lunch once a month.
My second memory is of our very last night together as a middle school staff, all of us the worse for wear, at a posh hotel and me sitting on a female colleague’s knee unable to stop blubbing. I don’t remember too much about it all except having to cut my farewell speech drastically short at the eleventh hour after being commanded not to, “…..get us going.”
3. Before the primary school started I was visited by the LA’s chief inspector for primary schools. I now offer a flavour of the conversation. She sat stony-faced opposite me in my office and reeled off instructions on how to run the reception intake classes. I will repeat one or two commands to give you a flavour. There were to be no teachers’ desks, no chairs or tables and no playtimes. It seemed (to me) that the children would attend and experience some sort of lengthy “Guided Daily Playtime” but without much effective guidance and with the teacher being indistinguishable to the eye for any visitor. I was told this was “The Primary Way”. Now, I had not been wasting my time in preparation for change, so had visited a few schools. Some of them had run this system and in every case that I saw they were extremely unpopular with the parents and with OFSTED. One headteacher told me, “You will have to educate the parents how this style is a good thing.” Unfortunately, on each visit I had definitely not witnessed “a good thing”. The rooms were in chaos and I lost count of the arguments, bullying, lack of moral guidance and H&S concerns that would have given me nightmares and all this was hidden behind the well worn and old chestnut of, “We are an inclusive school”. Now I believe totally in “the inclusive school” and have been congratulated at all levels for having one, but very sadly it often came to be used as a banner for the cause of (to me) sheer laziness. In my view (having been a parent) I would not have been happy if my children had been encouraged to participate in this (again in my view) anarchy. I have always had the greatest respect for the common sense judgement of good parents and I fully agreed with their views on this “enlightened” path to education. Further, this was one of many occasions where I had came into contact with local inspectors/advisers who had absolutely no idea of our present OFSTED driven reality. They still lived in an idealistic fantasy land and whilst I fully support ideals in general, indeed they are vital in life, they should not be foisted on schools who are trying to survive within the rigours of a modern day, OFSTED led, educational society. Particularly by people who will never have to answer to the parents. Once the long list of demands had been completed, I looked the inspector in the eye and said, “Now tell me of a school that is exactly the opposite of everything you want and that does well with OFSTED.” After a pause the name of an infant school in Corby was spat out and I never spoke to that inspector again. I visited Corby two days later, was welcomed with open arms and was stunned at what I saw. The children were happy, safe, on task, optimistic, humorous, shared outstanding moral values and had an excellent work ethic. Parents and teachers were united in a common purpose under the leadership of a very strong character of a headteacher who was always positive. My eternal gratitude goes to that lady who taught me that I was not alone in my values.
4.  My fourth memory is extremely sad in a very different respect and I wish it wasn’t true. Indeed, I am reluctant to recount the details to you. However, it lingers and festers in my mind and I feel the need (for the sake of my own health) to get it off my chest. So here we go dear reader. You have now become my therapist……

During this transition period I was attending “Prospective Primary Headteacher Meetings”, which consisted of all the lower school headteachers and four “survivors” from the middle schools (including me). During this time I was shocked at the ill-will and number of very unpleasant comments thrown at me personally by some of my new “colleagues”. These were said to my face and were mostly variations on a dismissive theme of, “You don’t understand The Primary Way. You haven’t got a hope.” Others examples are, “You won’t last 18 months” and “A male deputy and a male head! The parents won’t stand for that.”
Note: How desperately insecure that last headteacher must have been!
I sometimes wonder if these people were trying to help me, as the motivation they provided was overwhelming. The fact that, when I finally left in 2012, Delapre Primary was equal top with one other school in the category “The County’s Most Oversubscribed Primary School” is in no small part, down to them.
During this period, I quickly lost count of the full number of derogatory, back biting statements that I encountered but remain grateful these people were brave enough to say it directly to my face. However, I could not help but wonder if they represented the tip of the iceberg. I never found out but I made sure that (pre-retirement) I did not attend any HT meeting where I would be given some sort of farewell and a bottle of wine. The thought of those same individuals smiling and saying goodbye was too much and I would have been unable to keep my gob shut. This was not the first time in my career that I formed a personal view that some primary headteachers are the most petty, insecure little martinets on earth. Once again I felt desperately sorry for their respective teaching staffs who had to suffer such dangerous leaders spreading their spite and despair and thus shooting themselves in the foot. I also wondered how such people could satisfy the law by moralising in a “broadly Christian” way in front of the children in assembly by supposedly speaking from the heart and then acting like this. “Two faced” doesn’t seem to come close. It was this personal view that spurred me on to write my book, now sitting in its proof form.
However, conversely (and perhaps controversially) I can also say that, at the first meeting, every male headteacher present, came over and warmly welcomed me to the primary school fold and wished me the best of luck. I must also stress that a few female headteachers did this too, also very warmly, so I am not trying to stereotype. I am simply recalling my experiences during a very formative time and they hurt! Now you can understand why I hesitate to put this in writing but at least I know in advance those individuals who will protest the most about me relating this memory.

My philosophy had always been that a headteacher must be a good “teacher” first and foremost. In this way throughout my career I always taught both the youngest and the oldest in the school and firmly believe that HTs who do not teach are simply lazy or very poorly organised. I taught the youngest to set out my stall of morals and behaviour and to ensure they understood that kindness, a smile and a keen work ethic would always be rewarded with lots of (dare I say it?) fun! I made sure we always had fun. On the other hand, I liked to teach the eldest because they always told me what was happening in the school playground i.e. what I might have missed. Also, I was able to communicate and felt honoured to share in so much laughter with them. I don’t think I ever grew up and I was in my element. It is this infectious joy of humour that I miss most.
A year after the primary opened I felt I had adapted and never looked back. I now feel so privileged to have been offered this experience. I can honestly say that, until the day I took early retirement, I thoroughly enjoyed the job and the pupils. Their joy, enthusiasm for life and pure energy left me enthused on a daily basis. I now believe that primary headship just might be the best job in the world. I cannot see any reason why any primary school should not be an extremely happy and optimistic place. If it is not, take a long look at the headteacher.
There are lots of tales of those primary days but they are not for the telling here. So I will finish with one only. It concerns my very first day as a primary headteacher.
The school was in transition. We had 450 pupils from years 6, 7 and 8 from the (old) middle school and then two classes in reception for the start of the (new) primary school. There was not one iota of a problem with the older children and (once again) I was so proud.
On that September morning I finished my paperwork by throwing it in the bin. I remember I also received a phone call from a senior OFSTED HMI in The Midlands. He wanted to know why certain middle school forms had not been returned to him, as he had marked them as a priority. I bluntly told him that I put put them straight in the bin and there was a pause of uncertainty on his part. Then something clicked and he (perceptively) asked if there were any unusual circumstances concerning the school. Following my pointed explanation he simply said, “Thank you for sharing that with me.” I instantly liked
 him. He didn’t miss much despite not knowing what was going on. However why he didn’t know we were shutting bothered me! At this point I should note that any HMIs (top level inspectors) I have met have been very good quality people and decent human beings who are blessed with deep common sense. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the day to day school inspectors visiting on behalf of OFSTED. I have experienced the extremes of both brilliant and awful.
Back to the story. At about 9.20 on that first morning I decided to go and speak to my first 4 year old. I walked to the play area outside the two reception classrooms and there was Vernon; I had taught his Mother. I looked at him and said, “Hello, you’re Vernon, I taught your Mum.” He returned the look and said, “F*** Off!”  I was stunned. A senior teacher and very good friend was walking by and she said, “Did I hear that correctly?” This little boy turned and gave her “the finger”.
In all the years of my career teaching snotty teenagers not one had dared to speak to me or the teacher like that. I hesitated a second and then my basic instinct kicked in. I took him to my office and gave him the biggest dressing down I could muster. Strangely I found myself genuinely angry, a rare thing, as school life (as good practitioners know) is all about acting. I asked myself how a four year old could behave like that? My underlying philosophy throughout my career has always been, “Do what you would do if it was your own child,” in true loco parentis style. One thing I knew was certain, this young man had the ability to destroy the vision of my new school and that was just not going to happen.
When his Mum arrived Vernon and I met her together. By then (most vitally and as always) the telling off was over and after time for reflection I had offered him an olive branch, which he eagerly grasped. We had become friends. I talked to his Mum and told her everything, including my reaction. I had already discovered that he played at the front of his house and, in his words, “some very big boys” had taught him exactly what to do on the first occasion that a teacher spoke directly to him. He was not allowed to play at the front of the house again.
I checked up on Vernon regularly after that, always treating him to a warm smile and a positive outlook. He had an old head on young shoulders and a host of worries. He seemed to enjoy our chats and we remained friends for the next seven years. When he left he gave me a silver cup, which was inscribed with a very pleasant sentiment. Wherever he is, I wish him well and with very fond memories.
Finally, in this respect, you might like to know that not long after that first encounter I was specifically asked about this particular boy at a local headteachers’ meeting. It seemed (unknown to me) he had a reputation even at that young age, although I know not from where. I recounted my tale and was met with shock. I was repeatedly informed that I should not have told him off because, “He’s only 4 years old….”. Once again I was stunned. It seemed, “The Primary Way” and I were not going to get along. I wanted to say, “But next year he’s only six, then only seven and then only eight. When do you think he should start learning right from wrong?” However, I remained quiet and resolute. I was very clear on how I would have reacted to my own child speaking like that. There was no more to be said. The local headteachers and I would be taking very different paths.

Enough, I have rambled too long.
I can only apologise for the odd places where my memories were a little “dark”. That is not the real me. I am not downhearted, they just happen to be memories that played a part along the way.
On 27th July 2012, I was given the best send off any HT could possibly have in a whirlwind of a day. The icing on the cake was experiencing the old and new “families” of both middle and primary school teachers being united. I sobbed my heart out.