Clint and me: Mossbourne head says school leaders are 'lone heroes'

18th February 2011 at 00:00
Wilshaw shoots from the hip as he urges others to follow his tough- guy role model

Clint Eastwood's characters in Westerns are "a model for 21st-century school leadership", a celebrated headteacher has said, calling for school leaders to become "the lone warrior, fighting for righteousness".

Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Mossbourne Community Academy, in Hackney, often feted by education secretary Michael Gove, said heads should reject new trends towards shared or "distributed" leadership and needed "more ego".

He said schools needed powerful heads who were "entrepreneurs and empire builders" and unafraid to upset staff if it is in the long-term interests of the school.

Sir Michael, who has taken on a series of advisory roles for the Government, told the 100 Group conference of leading state and private school heads in London last week: "Take that scene in Pale Rider when the baddies are shooting up the town, the mists dissipate and Clint is there.

"Being a headteacher is all about being the lone warrior, fighting for righteousness, fighting the good fight, as powerful as any chief executive.

"I'm not that bothered about distributed leadership; I would never use it; I don't think Clint would either. We need headteachers with ego. You see heads who don't use `I' and use `we' instead, but they should.

"We need heads who enjoy power and enjoy exercising that power."

Sir Michael also tore into a stack of core initiatives started by the previous government, including Every Child Matters, personalised learning and the community cohesion duty.

He said schemes such as the national strategies took good staff away from schools: "Thank God (they are) being closed down," he said.

Sir Michael's comments will irritate many school leadership teams which have adopted the philosophy of shared or distributed leadership.

The National College, which awards the National Professional Qualification for Headship, has worked hard to debunk the myth of the "hero" or "superhead", preferring to promote a more caring and sharing approach.

But his speech chimes with the new coalition Government's view that schools should seek independence from local authorities and have more control over their finances.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, hit back at Sir Michael's Clint Eastwood call.

He told The TES: "Different schools require different styles of leadership, but schools are too complex institutions to be led by one person alone."

Toby Salt, deputy chief executive of the National College, added: "Heads make tough decisions every day and there is no one way to be a great leader."

He said the college trained heads "so they can be confident in their decision-making and inspire others to do the same".

Heads at the 100 Group conference expressed concern that having too much authority in the hands of one person made schools vulnerable to abuse of power.

Sir Michael has been the darling of both the Labour and Tory parties because of his success at Mossbourne, which opened on the site of the failing Hackney Downs School in 2004.

Since taking on his role, his hardline approach to everything from uniform to detentions has been credited with achieving outstanding exam results. Ten of his pupils received offers from Cambridge University this year.

Some headteachers have claimed that Mossbourne creams off the most talented pupils, a charge that has been denied by Sir Michael, who is also director of education at the charity and academy chain Absolute Return for Kids (Ark).



Sir Michael Wilshaw has infuriated unions by saying he is "ashamed" of primary heads who took part in the key stage 2 Sats boycott last year.

Sir Michael told the 100 Group conference of leading state and independent school heads: "I felt ashamed that some of the heads opted out of Sats at KS2."

Asked by The TES to expand on his statement, he said: "I was slightly surprised (that they took part in the boycott).

"There's a contract you are making; you are more powerful than you have ever been but we want you to be accountable.

"Publication of exam results has been shown to be very beneficial."

Unions, however, claim that the publication of test results and league tables is unfair and twists the curriculum towards "teaching to the test", at the expense of other learning.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said: "Heads must be held accountable, but for the right things; it's about schools being measured on what matters.

"I'm proud of people who would risk careers and reputations to make that happen."

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