Can one person run a school?

28th May 2010 at 01:00
No, because `leadership must be understood by many and spread widely' - even to pupils

Personal factors are more likely than organisational ones to lie behind teachers' unwillingness to take on leadership roles in school - placing a question mark over the considerable efforts to persuade them to do so.

A workshop at a conference on educational leadership, held in Edinburgh last Friday, considered seven "individual barriers" and seven "institutional barriers" which might put teachers off applying for headships.

The critical issues were work-life balance, confidence and location, according to Tony Townsend, professor in educational leadership at Glasgow University. They were considered more important than frequently-cited factors such as the rapidity of change or job complexity.

Professor Townsend told The TESS: "We looked at the issue of change and complexity and came to the conclusion that it is no longer possible for a single person to run a school. For schools to be successful in a rapidly- changing and increasingly complex environment, leadership must be understood by many and spread widely."

This same message came from Bill Maxwell, the head of the inspectorate, who called for leadership "to be opened up to learners as well as staff and the wider community which has a role in children's education".

Professor Townsend echoed this: "We must all be prepared to share what we know - for instance, those who know most about technology are usually the students - and to take responsibility for supporting the development of others."

This, he suggested, pointed to an overlap between leading, learning and teaching. "All of the evidence about the impact that leaders can have on student learning shows that the most important factor is for the school leader to promote, and participate in, teacher learning activities.

"So the headteacher must be the chief learner and teach others - teachers, students and parents - to be learners as well. I characterise this as `everyone must be a learner, a teacher and a leader'."

Dr Maxwell drew attention to the preoccupation of the hour and said new approaches to leadership would be needed to support Curriculum for Excellence. "The experiences and outcomes allow teachers more freedom to teach, as was intended, but it is more demanding of teachers and demands a different kind of leadership," he said.

The conference, which was organised by the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration and the Scottish Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society, also got a take on leadership from outside education - from the police, banking and the founder of leadership centre Columba 1400.

Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan, who heads the violence reduction unit in Strathclyde Police, spoke out against a "command and control" style of leadership: it would not stop violence or change organisational cultures.

"Leadership is about effectiveness, not just innovation," he said. "If it happens to be innovative as well, you're on. But it has to work."

Dr Maxwell agreed, promising HMIE guidance for schools on how inspectors would judge innovation under the new curriculum. "It will do so on the basis that any innovation is effective in supporting learning," he said.

The ethical dimension of leadership was stressed - not surprisingly - by Lady Susan Rice, managing director of the Lloyds Banking Group Scotland. She acknowledged that the banks would have to show leadership in rebuilding the trust of the public.

Norman Drummond, the founder of the Skye-based Columba 1400, called for leadership to recognise that "there is huge potential in all of us".

And, as Leonard Cohen wrote, he added, "there's a crack in (everyone), that's how the light gets in".

Value of nursery staff

The conference heard a powerful plea from Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan for nursery staff to be valued more highly than they are. Statistics from a 2005 Social Market Foundation report revealed that spending per student was around pound;1,500 for the under-fives in 2002-03, compared with more than pound;5,000 in higher education.

"Why is it that nursery teachers are less valued than university lecturers?" he asked. "Why is it that some university principals command a salary of a quarter of a million pounds?"

DCS Carnochan said his experience in dealing with violence since his unit was set up five years ago convinced him that "cracking domestic violence is the nexus: if you bring up a child in a war zone, you'll create warriors, which is why early intervention is so important.

"It's often said that the most important four years of a child's life are those up to the age of three - and that includes the period of pregnancy. As Chicago University academic James Heckman put it: `A major determinant of successful schools is successful families'."

DCS Carnochan said a switch of resources to the early years was necessary as it was then that children learned the skills which employers say they need and which are least nurtured in chaotic families - problem-solving, organising, working with others, team-working, learning to negotiate and acquiring the ability to compromise.

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