The challenge ahead

28th May 2004 at 01:00
Geoff Southworth explains why it has to be worked at

The issue facing the profession is how we sustain existing school leaders and develop new ones.

Demands on school leaders are constant and change rapidly. Our task at the National College for School Leadership is to support them to improve the quality of learning and teaching.

Leaders need a passion for ongoing learning. Becoming a leader is not the end of the line for learning. What makes a good school leader? We believe it means being someone who continually learns about their role. Leadership learning covers six key areas. Leading learning and teaching Leaders are challenged to think in new ways to influence what happens in classrooms and have an unwavering focus on pupil learning. They need to understand the learning process and what it means for improving learning and teaching in schools, whether through curriculum development, an understanding of how to meet the needs of diverse groups or delivering personalised learning for pupils. It also includes a commitment to continuous development for themselves and colleagues.

Development of self and working with others Leadership is about getting the best out of people. Good relationships create conditions that motivate pupils and staff, and secure the support of parents and governors. To build positive relationships, leaders need to understand themselves, and the impact they have on others. This means being clear about their values and the school's ethos.

Creating the future Successful leaders promote a shared vision of the future, underpinned by common purpose and values, which will secure the commitment of a wide range of stakeholders. They plan strategically, set objectives and evaluate progress towards the vision they have set out.

Managing the organisation Successful management makes sure things get done. Staff and pupils then feel confident that everything is running smoothly in their daily working environment.

Strengthening community through collaboration Improved learning depends on staff collaboration. There need to be high levels of professional sharing, support and challenge. Leaders work effectively with governing bodies, parents, professional associations and unions, local education authorities and diocesan boards. They understand the school's role in the community and explore the role of networked learning communities and working with other schools.

Securing accountability There is a formal accountability relationship between school leaders, the system and the public which is determined by statute and reflected in the relationship between the headteacher and the governing body. However, the role of school leaders goes beyond this: they have to make a positive difference to their pupils' progress, achievement and development.

School leaders are challenged to match learning to pupils' individual needs. In much the same way, the paths that leaders choose to develop will be personal to them. They can learn from on-the-job experiences. They can learn in other settings. But the purpose is the same: to develop successful school leaders.

At present, only 10 per cent of headteachers think that school leadership is excellent. Let's work together to increase excellence in leadership in our schools.

Professor Geoff Southworth is director of research at the National College for School Leadership

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