Sheffield England city skyline silhouette vector illustration

Excellent teachers – can they afford to be extraordinary?

In a climate where targets rule, it must be hard for the eccentric to be deemed excellent teachers and to flourish within English schools. It’s counter-intuitive, though, because most of us would agree that the mavericks are the most memorable people in our classrooms.

Hector vs Irwin – is it even a fair fight?

Alan Bennett’s History Boys character, Hector is a profoundly flawed but brilliant educator and polymath. He loves learning and this is manifested through entertaining and stimulating classroom techniques.  The beauty of this story is the contrast between the flights of fancy in his classroom and the backdrop of the austere 1980s Sheffield grammar school where the drama unfolds.

New broom

A ‘new broom’ appears in the shape of Mr Irwin, who focuses on efficiency and exam technique. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that Irwin’s style would be much more at home in a 2017 English academy.  Indeed, the government’s recruitment website encourages swift career progression.  It also promotes the possibility for quick progression for positive role models.

armHe made their lives extraordinary

Robin Williams made a fabulous maverick teacher as John Keating in Dead Poets Society back in 1989. ‘He was their inspiration.  He made their lives extraordinary’ according to the movie’s poster.  True enough, it’s almost impossible to imagine Keating feeling overwhelmed by lesson plans, objectives and performance management.  He would be too busy encouraging his students to identify their own perspective and personal style.

The maverick’s downfall, therefore, may be a lack of attention to detail – I doubt very much that either Hector or Keating’s paperwork was up to date.  On the other hand, Irwin could quite easily fall into the results factory trap – seeking ‘badges and stickers’ in order to bolster the school’s league table standing.  Ofsted chief, Amanda Spielman recently told attendees of the Festival of Education in Berkshire that there is a very real danger of losing sight ‘of the real substance of education’.  She states that, whilst exam grades and progress scores are important, ‘the real meat of what is taught in our schools and colleges’ should take precedence.  For Spielman, the wider curriculum is king.   GCSEs should be taught alongside spiritual, moral, social and cultural development aimed at nurturing rounded individuals.

Perhaps there is room for the odd but excellent maverick teacher after all.


Hourglass Education works closely with schools to find them the best teachers possible. If you are a teacher looking for your next challenge, or a school with a tricky vacancy, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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