Shifting the blame

Michael Pettavel Head teacher, Brougham Street Childcare and Nursery School, Skipton. All views most definitely my own
Monday, September 28, 2020

Nobody is in charge, or is accountable, if nobody takes responsibility, says our columnist Michel Pettavel

Michael Pettavel: 'Currently no-one appears accountable, as ministers and their "advisors" squabble'
Michael Pettavel: 'Currently no-one appears accountable, as ministers and their "advisors" squabble'

Well, just when we thought it was confusing enough… I have spent the past few weeks wondering whether the almost entirely contradictory information and guidance coming from Whitehall is deliberate or just inefficient, and came to the remarkable conclusion that it probably doesn’t matter, unless you want to place the blame.

Perfectly timed with the return to school and, later, the universities, the ‘world beating’ (not my words) Test and Trace system disappeared, not so much in a flash, but more the way batteries run out on a torch in a power cut.

Public health teams groaned under the strain of multiple calls from concerned head teachers and managers looking for expert advice, and I have spent my time trying to distinguish a ‘new continuous cough’ from other types of coughs.

Leadership is a funny thing, but often depends on clarity, confidence and accessibility. We all know how statements open to interpretation become, well, interpreted. Now more than ever we need an unambiguous message. No-one is expecting life to be easy, but a few clear instructions delivered in a timely way would dial back the anxiety. Poor preparation for an inevitable event (such as millions of children returning to school) should not be met with surprise; well, not unless you are particularly stupid.

It appears it is becoming second nature to shift the blame (onto teachers, Ofqual, people in their 20s, PHE, anyone following the instructions given two weeks ago… add your own list here). If only one thing is important, it is to take responsibility, whatever our role. I am responsible for our children, families and our team. I take that very, very seriously. If I do make mistakes (and I do), I try to be honest because honesty breeds trust. If I try to sidestep the blame, then I should not be in a position of authority, because being ‘in charge’ is my responsibility. The buck stops here. Currently no-one appears accountable, as ministers and their ‘advisors’ squabble – ‘It was him, Miss…’ (or bend the rules with self-administered eye tests).

We are in the middle of what was unthinkable a year ago; global pandemics were the stuff of Hollywood movies and evil geniuses. Nobody can be blamed for its existing (might be a debated point), but a clear and honest approach will serve us all better than confusion, defensiveness and blaming others. It cannot always be somebody else’s fault.

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