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Leaders empower, rulers take power

Good leadership is vital for the efficient running and success of schools, but what exactly are the necessary skills and qualities? Three years into the Scottish Qualification for Headship, Raymond Ross asks headteachers around the country what they think makes a good leader

Susan Gow Wardie Primary, Edinburgh

Leadership has to be consensual. I work to a non-hierarchical style which strives to include all the stakeholders: staff, pupils, parents and the wider community.

Five main points underpin this for me. You have to believe that you can learn a vision which you can share with everyone. You have to learn to be as objective as possible in evaluating your own role and that of your staff. Believing that communication can be learned, you have to work to improve it constantly. You must empower others: that's crucial to collaborative team work. And you must be prepared to challenge traditional ways of working.

Any new headteacher must be prepared to change the culture of the school. This is the most difficult thing to do. It depends on your relationships with people and those, in turn, depend on your own values. You will meet resistance but you must have the courage and conviction to persuade and convince others that is the way to go. It's a craft you can learn.

You also have to self-evaluate while empathising with others. The principles can be learned in theory but you really learn how to do it by doing it.

I believe in encouraging class teachers to take on development responsibility. A staff which feels ownership will work to the best. It's important to recognise that leadership qualities apply to teachers in the classroom, leading pupils, auxiliaries and parent helpers, but most of all leading in curriculum development and evaluating their own practice.

Wardie management team always approaches new developments from the point of view of the class teacher and allows them to take the lead as far as possible. You have to show, as they have to see, that a particular curricular development is worthwhile from their point of view.

Through the development of staff and school policy you inform the pupils' learning and that is best done through empowering the class teacher.

In management team terms, I'd recommend the Scottish Qualification for Headship, which my assistant head is doing. Encouraging that is an example of empowering others.

I also believe in working closely with the school board and the parent-teacher association to help build the school ethos.

Lydia Catto Forthill Primary, Dundee

Having a vision for the school, sharing it and turning it into reality, that is what I think leadership is about.

While I do lead from the front and offer direction, my preferred style is to involve others in the process: participative management. No one person has all the answers. Developments can have more effective outcomes when consultation has taken place and the school community has been able to contribute in some way.

It is important to harness the talents, strengths, skills and experience of all the staff for the good of the school and its pupils.

This kind of leadership is very much about creating the right climate. People must feel comfortable about being open and sharing their views. It does take time for this to evolve, to allow trust to develop.

My depute substitutes for me when I'm out of school (or the assistant head, if we are both out). There is good communication before and after my not being in school to ensure things move along smoothly, supported by a committed teaching and support staff.

Teachers are leaders in the classroom and have all been involved in drawing up programmes and implementing them. Although there is consistency of content, there is flexibility in the way staff manage their classrooms and learning and teaching. That's important. They are creating an ethos in which children can achieve.

Monitoring classroom practice is one of the management team's responsibilities and this helps ensure appropriate delivery.

Our major development work is set firmly within the school development plan. Management does lead here but the plan is the result of a process involving the whole staff. In this way ownership evolves and the plan is much more likely to forge ahead positively.

We are currently developing information and communication technology across the curriculum. It is a project within the school development plan to which we have applied our management process of audit, identifying any changes, resourcing, implementing, monitoring development and incorporating assessment and evaluation towards future action.

A successful school is a combination of elements: good leadership, inspired teaching, motivated pupils and supportive parents.

Alec Peggie Carlogie Primary, Carnoustie, Angus

Values and relationships, that's what leadership is about; articulating the values of the school and concerning yourself with the relationships in it.

It's about trust and respect between everyone: pupils, parents, staff and the wider community. That means encouraging and enabling others to follow your own vision and to develop themselves. It also means, if it comes to it, that a headteacher takes the rap for others' mistakes.

I would hope that I'm democratic and consultative, although you have to be prepared to dig in. You have to have the courage of your convictions. You have to know when to lead from the front, but also know not to lead from the front all the time. This comes back to trust, to promoting the right ethos in the school.

You have to support staff and enhance their skills as best you can. You have to have your staff on board and contributing for the benefit of the pupils. I rely on my senior management team and staff to promote good relationships all round.

In Angus we have a headteacher mentoring scheme and that's to be recommended because it supports new heads and also, as a mentor, you learn.

I would recommend gaining as wide an experience as possible. I've been on working parties at local and national level, an acting adviser and an associate assessor with HM Inspectorate, all of which feeds back to benefit your school, your colleagues and your local authority.

I believe that the present system where you get promoted out of the class and out of the school is not the best. Leadership is one thing, but it is best served by the widest possible professional experience. A good headteacher needs experience working in a college, working with the local authority, with HMIs and so on with a view to remaining a headteacher. We need a system which gives wider experience but brings you back into school, because the focus should always be on learning and teaching. This is something which McCrone failed to address.

Also, heads are expected to be accountants and administrators as well as inspired leaders. With so much paperwork, there is a case for separating management from leadership, having a school manager as well as a headteacher whose focus is consistently on learning and teaching.

At the end of the day it is all about the pupils and good leadership is about doing your best for them in every way you can.

Charles Robertson Kelso High School, Scottish Borders

I believe in an inclusive style of management. This involves developing the school as a community in which all are involved, including pupils, teachers, support staff, parents and the wider community.

It requires communication. Good lines of communication are perhaps the most important vehicle for inclusive management. This means listening to staff, pupils and parents through meetings, pupil councils, surveys, questionnaires and individual conversations. Hearing opinions and ideas on school issues helps to point the school in the right direction.

Inclusive management also requires effective delegation, allowing staff and senior pupils responsibility to take decisions and manage particular aspects of school life. This makes the school work more efficiently and develops those concerned. At Kelso High job descriptions of the management team are laid out in accordance with the Standard for Headship in Scotland.

The "vision" is not the prerogative of the headteacher. It is arrived at by a consensus of views and will only ever be achieved if all work together towards it. The common thread running through the developments in the school has been an emphasis on greater participation in the life and work of the school by all involved in the school community.

I was one of the first candidates to go through the Scottish Qualification for Headship. As part of my portfolio I wrote that "schools need a strong lead, not in telling others what to do but in establishing the framework to allow them to do it. The key lesson I have learned from my time in management is that the necessary skill, expertise and talent are present in our schools already and an effective manager creates a climate where they can flourish." After nearly three years in headship I still wholeheartedly agree with this.

Underpinning this, I believe a head has to know his or her school well by knowing the community, the pupils and the staff. Fortunately, I've lived in this community for 20 years and know the background to the school, the parents, local employers and the ethos of a Border town well.

You can get to know pupils by teaching, taking extra-curricular activities and being about in the corridors at break times and lunchtimes. Knowing all the staff is essential and you have to talk formally and informally with them as often as possible.

Douglas Simpson Fortrose Academy, Highland

Participative management is the only effective style of management. You start from the principle of respecting people - pupils, staff and parents - and valuing their contributions. You set up systems to allow people at all levels to have a say.

We've always had class teachers on the management team, probably about half our staff over the years. Last year two pupils were elected on to the management team from the pupil council. They attend the weekly meetings and their contribution is valued and they know that, which sends a very positive message to the school as a whole.

How you respond to queries and questions that come to your door is terribly important, whether it is from a teacher or a parent or an S1 pupil who's upset because he's lost his bag. You have to treat everything with respect because inter-personal skills are the key strengths that help you develop the ethos of the school.

Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions and staff consensus may not be with you but if your staff know they're valued, they will go with you.

Experience is important. I was in four schools before this, beginning in Strathclyde, and moving schools is useful in terms of experiencing different management styles. I've also visited other schools with HMIs as an associate assessor. Hopefully, you bring something useful to those schools but they also inform your own practice through what they are doing. You have to be open to other ideas.

An effective headteacher has to be a role model, at assembly and when taking classes too. You have to demonstrate what you believe in and be an example of good practice.

Your school must run effectively when you're not there. I was away on a foreign exchange for two weeks and the school was run, week about, by two of my three depute heads, which was good professional development experience for them.

If your school can't run effectively when you're not there, then it is too focused on individual personality.

You have to make sure the curriculum and management development is sound. That's a central part of the process. Things should progress well in your absence.

I'm in favour of passing on knowledge and experience and although personality plays a part in leadership, for me it's about developing other people. Three headteachers in this authority have come from Fortrose and that's encouraging.

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