Attlee, Churchill or Thatcher?

15th June 2007 at 01:00
No matter what type of leader they are, headteachers must ensure consistency so all pupils benefit from good teaching

LEADERSHIP IN schools and colleges must be about "perspiration as well as inspiration", the head of the inspectorate said this week as new figures appeared to reveal an improving picture.

Graham Donaldson said the number of schools judged by his inspectors to have weak or unsatisfactory leadership had almost halved, although he was at pains to say there would have to be a fuller analysis of the figures.

The oft-quoted statement from HMIE that between 15 and 20 per cent of schools are not well led has reduced to between 10-12 per cent, based on evaluations of 410 primaries and 84 secondaries carried out in the last 18 months.

Mr Donaldson suggested that improvements in the recruitment of headteachers and developing them to be more effective were making a difference. "The efforts being put in appear to be bearing fruit," he told a conference in Edinburgh to launch the HMIE report, Leadership for Learning.

The emphasis of the inspectorate is now on "distributed leadership," which describes the importance of encouraging leadership capacities in all staff, not just those at the top.

"Developing leadership is not just about honing the skills of those in the most senior positions," Mr Donaldson said. "It is also about releasing the energies of every member of staff and learner."

This was endorsed by Maureen Watt, the Minister for Schools and Skills, who announced that the Scottish Executive would be "taking stock" of where the agenda had reached. This would be after an international summer school on school leadership, which will be held in Edinburgh from July 30 to August 3.

Ms Watt said there would be a four-pronged approach to building the educational leaders of tomorrow, involving succession planning, supporting new heads, encouraging collegiality and using business managers to let heads concentrate on learning and achievement.

Mr Donaldson stressed there was no "magic bullet" or "quick fix" to improving educational leadership. Neither, he said, was there are any one style to bring it about. "Some of the best headteachers or principals are self-effacing, while others believe in 'l'ecole, c'est moi'," he said.

While there were features common to strong leadership in all walks of life, there were particular challenges facing leadership in education, Mr Donaldson added.

"When you see high quality leadership in an education setting, it is at least of the same order as in the public sector or business world. It's complex and it's difficult but, at its best, leaders in education are among the best in the country."

Mr Donaldson said that, as well as providing the vision of what a school or college is trying to achieve and focusing on learning, good heads and principals need to ensure there is consistency in the quality of teaching to guard against the "lottery" of some pupils having good teachers and others not.

Fiona Carlisle, HMI, who had responsibility for drawing up the report, said every member of staff in a school or college should think of themselves as having the capacity to lead. But she warned: "Lead-ership is a daily development, not something that can be developed in a day."

David Cameron, director of children's services in Stirling Council, said he preferred a style of leadership that was "more Attlee than Churchill or That-cher", a reference to the "modest and unassuming" nature of the post-war Labour Prime Minister who laid the foundations of the Welfare State, rather than his more "heroic" counterparts.

He also cautioned against intimidating potential leaders with a constant emphasis on excellence: "That is outstanding and exceptional, whereas it is improvement that we need and with which we should probably be satisfied."

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