Bring on the professionals

26th February 2010 at 00:00

Watching Celtic over the course of this season has not been an enjoyable experience, at least for the fans - others, I am sure, will have been delighted by the ineptness shown on the park.

Being a "reflective supporter", I have been struck, often, by the glaring lack of leadership displayed by highly-paid footballers. At times, no one seemed able to catalyse all that individual talent and mould it into a single entity that is a team performance.

So leadership is an important debate!

In terms of Scottish education, the Educational Institute of Scotland is keen to be involved; indeed, we published our own leadership document earlier in the session and it is going to a second print. A key issue for us is support for "leadership at all levels". I've attended a number of leadership seminars where this concept is mentioned in passing, the discussion moving on quickly to promoted post-holders and management issues. Effective management is important, but it's not necessarily good leadership.

For leadership at all levels to flourish, schools need to have embraced collegiate ways of working - and, despite some progress, there is still much work to do in terms of genuine collegiate practice.

Collegiality is about an approach to colleagues founded on mutual professional respect. It does not mean always agreeing, but it does mean engaging in debate and discussion. Ultimately, and this may be the rock on which some voyages into collegiality founder, it means the ceding of some power. Discussion, debate, consultation are pointless if the parameters within which they operate preclude the possibility of changing or even influencing decisions.

So managers who embark on consultation exercises with decisions already made are not being collegiate; the inherent dishonesty of such an approach runs counter to developing collegiate working, because teachers will be disappointed and disillusioned and will turn away from the wider responsibility that genuine collegiality invites them to participate in.

The Standard for Headship articulates the need for headteachers to "demonstrate a clear commitment to collegiality", but letting go of some of those reins of power can be difficult, not least because of the excessive demands made on school leadership by the "accountability agenda".

Much of this agenda manifests itself most grotesquely in authorities where too many directorates are overly concerned with micro-managing schools, constricting and limiting genuine innovation. Micro-management, at any level, reveals a lack of professional trust: if that is absent, we are building developments such as Curriculum for Excellence on shaky ground.

CfE demands the return of professional responsibility and the freedom to be creative and innovative in our practice. It creates the opportunity for everyone to lead teaching and learning in our schools.

At a recent in-service day in my school, two of our probationers delivered an excellent workshop on active learning - create the space and people will fill it.

In a similar vein, I was recently on a weekend course working towards a Basic Expedition Leader Award - allowing me to take Duke of Edinburgh groups onto the hills. What I found inspiring and reassuring about the group was that, apart from me, every teacher there was under 30 and all were keen to develop their leadership skills in a very direct way, working with pupils.

Both events left me feeling quite optimistic - about education at least.

Larry Flanagan is education convener of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

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