Accountability with an intelligent face

13th May 2005 at 01:00
Developing school leadership is essential to manage the national reforms, says Lindsay Roy

The Prime Minister is quoted as saying that "school leaders are the change-makers in modern society". Hand in glove, therefore, with increased decision-making powers devolved to schools, there must be a strong and lasting commitment to provide high-quality leadership training. This will be a critical component in taking forward the education reforms.

The strong commitment given by the Scottish Executive, and supported by all political parties, to the growth of continuing professional development for school leaders is warmly welcomed. The creation of a leadership academy is an interesting innovation that should help school staff meet the high expectations which have been set.

A review of the standards for headship and chartered teacher (they, too, are leaders) should enhance quality. To meet expectations, a comprehensive, ongoing programme of good quality CPD must be put in place. Equally, few would disagree that increased rigour in selecting staff for such demanding roles is desirable.

Managing and delivering effective change is a real challenge - and skills in mentoring, team building and collegiate working towards common objectives are paramount. School leaders generally welcome the increased responsibility, authority and accountability that further devolution will bring.

Implicitly, the national teachers' agreement has given due recognition to the need to give all staff an entitlement to high-quality CPD - and through developing the notion of the enhanced professional (although there is still much debate about what that really means). Personal growth and development are as important for staff as for our pupils - we too must set an example as "leading and lifelong learners". School leaders need to ensure that there are genuine opportunities to use initiative and consider creative approaches to improving their contributions within schools. So enterprise in education must be firmly on the staff agenda too. We must provide leadership and growth opportunities within the context of our daily work - in the areas that really matter - learning and teaching, care, welfare and support for pupils, behaviour management, raising attainment and achievement, inclusion.

Government has provided a clear framework by setting out objectives, a common purpose and shared values. We all know where we should be going, enabling all pupils to develop their capacities as successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. The challenge is how best to achieve these objectives. Flexibility with parameters will be essential - as will a spirit of openness, transparency and trust among schools, local and national government and other partners.

Schools are at the heart of the improvement process - and, increasingly, the expectation is that schools are the focus of collaborative working to best address individual needs.

However, school leaders must have a clear line of accountability and a "single conversation" when progress and performance are discussed - and not several masters who take up valuable time revisiting the same agenda.

"Intelligent accountability" is a streamlined approach to quality assurance and it is pleasing that it has found support within the Executive.

The teachers' agreement has provided a welcome opportunity to reconfigure management structures. However, given the pace of change and the demands as we move towards full-service or integrated learning communities, radical reductions in senior management teams do not constitute a realistic way forward. Properly designed, the implementation of new management structures and the engagement of other professionals in collaborative working offer huge potential.

The freedom to adjust and plan the curriculum to better meet the needs of all youngsters is a great leap forward. It will be the responsibility of schools to arrange that greater flexibility, consulting with key partners, especially pupils and parents. However, each school must have a clear rationale for such change and ensure that it is properly resourced and supported. Decisions about curriculum options are best made at local level, in the light of local circumstances and opportunities - and there has to be a clear focus on outcomes.

But increased devolution must not bring with it increased insularity because we all have a vested interest in sharing best practice, whether it is in the curriculum, pupil support or learning and teaching. Funding allocations are, of course, critical to success. But the richest resource rests in the skills, qualities and expertise of the staff who are engaged at school level, whatever funding is available.

There can be no doubt that the Executive has increased substantially the amount of funding available for education - and that some of the investment has been specifically targeted to assist schools in meeting targets and national priorities. The move towards three-year budgeting has been warmly welcomed. However, a recent survey indicated quite clearly that there have been wide disparities across local authorities in relation to the levels of investment actually reaching schools. To achieve real progress, as much investment as possible should reach school level - as that is where the real qualitative improvements take place.

The clear expectation is that all schools will engage in continuous improvement, so it is vital that there are clear criteria for resourcing and supporting schools. But, whatever the notional allocation, the key question remains: 90 per cent or 95 per cent of what? Close consultation between service managers and school leaders over what is to be retained - and what is to be devolved - will be essential. Any model should be open and transparent, with clarity in terms of role, responsibility and accountability. Furthermore, if we are serious about "best value", local government should offer schools greater flexibility than at present in terms of minor works, maintenance and repairs. We have a collective responsibility to ensure that, as far as possible, such work is carried out at competitive rates and within appropriate time-scales.

The present agenda may seem overwhelming at times but the Executive seems to be placing unprecedented trust in school leaders - and an empowered staff. That level of trust must be matched in all local authorities to enable us to move forward together. School leaders must not be overwhelmed by the agenda and people must not lose trust in us because we have not achieved everything by tomorrow.

The reforms constitute a journey which must take place in a planned way over a period of time. School leaders need the resources, time and authority to manage change, developing a new culture where staff are empowered and encouraged to take on leadership roles - roles which we are encouraging in our pupils.

Lindsay Roy is president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland. This is an extract from his talk to an education reform conference in Edinburgh last month.

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