Following Mr O’Keefe’s time in the armed forces, a ‘fast-track’ conversion to primary headship gave him the chance to re-launch his career in one of the country’s most vibrant cities. His interview at Brookside Primary School went swimmingly; governors were hugely impressed with his views on uniform standards and school discipline in particular.
Mr O’Keefe couldn’t wait to take up post. In the time since leaving his last school, there had been major school reform, with schools exploring all sorts of freedoms in increasingly innovative ways. ‘The Blob is no more!’, cried the government. This would be so exciting and liberating, thought Derek.
His eagerness led him to the telephone and a flurry of calls to local headteacher colleagues.
‘What can I expect? Any advice?’, he asked innocently.
He received a tremendous response. Primary headteachers, being a collegiate lot, were only too happy to help.
‘You MUST join the NQSR, Derek.’
‘Come along to the Focus Strategy Group! It’s next Thursday.’
‘I’ll meet you at Wednesday’s ‘Learning Schools’ Forum’
‘This is marvellous,’ he thought. ‘So many of my future colleagues wanting to see me!’
Mr O’Keefe took up post and met the pupils and staff, but was soon embarking on his round of meetings. In addition to the NQSR group, the Focus Strategy Group and the Learning Schools’ Forum, he attended the City Challenge Working Party, the School Improvement Promise Association, and the Multi-Disciplinary Management, Origination and Definition Togetherness Association.
He sat and chatted to his new found friends; primary headteachers, being a collegiate lot, were great raconteurs. They chatted away merrily.
‘Should we not be listening to the officials?’, Derek asked during the Organisational and Remodelling Workforce Discussion and Effectiveness Visionary Committee.
‘Don’t be daft, Derek’, replied one. ‘Go and get another coffee.’
The following week, Mr O’Keefe was invited to meetings exploring the merits of two competing Multi-School Strategic Organisations. One option was the ‘Thomas Wainwright Academy Trust’, and the other the ‘Keeble North Organisational Board.’ Long discussions took place surrounding the names and associated marketing. Derek was asked for his opinion.
‘Well, have you considered the acronyms? I mean, one would end up being called TWA…’
‘Yes, great contribution Derek! Another biscuit?’, interrupted a rather portly councillor.
By the end of the month, Mr O’Keefe had also been invited to the Forum for the Educational Assessment of Mastery in Foundation Subjects (which sailed way over his head) and the ironically titled Forum Forum, which, according to its website, aimed to ‘engage innovative school leaders in the city’s vision statement within a free and flexible agenda’.
So flexible was it that no-one actually turned up, and Derek instead munched alone on the Costco sandwich platter. And as for vision, he had to make do with the sight of a road rage incident on the street adjacent to the office building.
On his way home, he got thinking. He realised he had spent next to no time in school since he started. In his previous incarnation as a headteacher, he didn’t remember so many demands on his time, or so many organisations that required his attention. He barely had time to see the school’s deputy headteacher, Mrs Celestial, for a weekly ‘catch-up’ (or Keeping In Touch meeting as he now called it; he had learnt one thing from his excursions).
The following day, at the City Consensus School Leaders’ Body for the Effectiveness, Efficiency and Brokerage Deployments, he asked his headteacher friends whether they should maybe, just maybe, be spending a little bit more time in school.
‘Yes, we’ve often thought about that, but we might not become innovative and forward-thinking if we miss out. How are we going to release our inner talent if we don’t attend?’
Derek felt foolish for even asking.
Yet, at the following day’s NVTFRLO seminar, he happened to be sharing a table with the city’s Director of Regional Commissioning, Effectiveness and Strategy, Mr Halfpenny, and repeated his query.
‘I mean, Mr Halfpenny, you know all these organisations and attend many of them. Apologies if I appear impertinent, but if you just merge them into one, we could all attend that one and then have more time to spend with our staff and children.’
Mr Halfpenny’s face inched towards a shade of full puce.
‘Good grief, man. How on earth would we become innovative then!? We’ll never beat the Chinese by just having one forum. And what about choice? Such a reductive decision would deprive creative leaders like you of all these opportunities. That’s why we needed reform!’
Mr Halfpenny guffawed and went back to his tract, ‘Leading Backwards, Forwards, Sidewards and Upwards: A Visionary Leader for the 22nd Century.’
Towards the end of his first term, Mr O’Keefe faced his governors to deliver his termly report. Sheepishly, he explained how he had achieved very little in the school, but had attended all the strategy groups in the city.
The Chair of Governors, Mrs Button, was delighted. ‘That’s marvellous to hear, Derek. It’s gratifying to know that you are developing your innovative and strategic management skills. Don’t worry about the staff – isn’t Mrs Celestial sorting this out for you anyway?’
Leaving the empty school later that evening, Mr O’Keefe felt confused and offloaded to his wife on arriving home. ‘I’m doing my job, but I’m not doing my job, if you see what I mean?’
‘Yes, love, And Brexit means Brexit.’
And so it went on. Mr O’Keefe went from meeting to strategy group to working party to improvement board. He tried to tell himself that he felt more innovative, but felt increasingly hollow inside.
One day, after attending the Devolved Creativity Board for Talent Management and Human Resource Efficiency, he returned to school to be met by Mrs Button and a rather tall, angular lady peering over her shoulder. ‘Hi Derek, may I introduce you to Mrs Fairweather. She is our new executive principal, now that we’ve joined the Park Ridge Academy Trust. It’s a great step forward in making us the creative hub of the city!’
‘Err, have you realised that Park Ridge Academy Trust will get shortened to…’
‘Lovely to meet you Derek,’ interrupted Mrs Fairweather. ‘In light of the decline in standards at the school, I have convened a Strategic Decision-Making and Monitoring Board. The first meeting starts in ten minutes. I look forward to you joining us.’
Mrs Button beamed with excitement. ‘I’ll leave you with Agatha then. It all sounds so magnificently brilliant. Any problems, just come and see me, Derek.’
But it was too late. Mr O’Keefe was already signing out and handing back his keys and fob. His adventure in primary leadership had come to an end. He walked to the end of the road, turned left by the drug dealers, and disappeared into the next chapter of his career.