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Primary case for home grown heads

LEADING PRIMARY SCHOOLS - the Pleasure, Pain and Principles of Being a Primary Head Teacher. By David Clegg and Shirley Billington. Open University Press. Pounds 12.99.

The suggestion that governors and local authorities should look outside education for the future leaders of our schools is an alarming knee-jerk response to the difficulties in recruiting headteachers. Certainly the role of the modern headteacher, a mixture of curriculum development, strategic planning, accountancy, premises supervision and personnel management - all presumably transferable skills - could well seem to provide an argument for such a proposal.

However, the authors argue most reassuringly that the real transferable skills are from those of a classroom teacher, managing the learning and progress of a class, to those of a headteacher managing the learning and progress of a whole school. The idea that our best teachers should be encouraged to become headteachers simply because they are our best teachers will be of tremendous comfort to all in the profession.

It will also enable those appointing headteachers to probe beneath the cloning diet of the Teacher Training Agency's headteacher qualification and discover the real essence of "educational leadership, critical, ethereal, transformative and educative".

The book opens with a simple historical overview of the changing nature of headship. It demonstrates how political and social changes have altered the role the head. It also analyses the more recent attempts to straitjacket the job into one that fits the marketplace.

The final chapters offer practical ideas for leading a school by respecting and empowering each individual in its community.

This book is not about target-setting, efficiency or value for money. Rather it is about the values and beliefs that enable teachers to be inspirational and successful in the classroom and in their leadership of schools.

The pivotal role of the headteacher in paying attention to the complex network of relationships that exists in any school is explored as an essential tool for achieving meaningful improvement.

The reader may wonder at the publication of yet another book on primary headship from the academic world, especially considering the extensive bibliography in this one. However, if there is to be a boost in the recruitment and indeed the retention, of headteachers, the message of this book needs to be heard loud and clear: "Schools are among the best managed human organisations anywhere" simply because they are led by people with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that enabled them to be successful teachers.

* Penny Clayton is headteacher at Ravenor Primary School, in Greenford, Middlesex

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