Common challenge is leadership

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
Peter Peacock returned home from his Australasian and Asian study visit saying he is more determined than ever to reinforce the importance of leadership in schools and of the craft of teaching - "and not just to emphasise it but to support headteachers and teachers in what they are doing".

Australia, New Zealand and Singapore all stressed the importance of these issues. The standard for headship in Scotland, which will become the mandatory yardstick for aspiring heads from next year, appears to be ahead of the game compared with the three other countries.

Singapore runs "principal-enabling courses" for senior managers in its schools and it allows principals and vice-principals to have sabbaticals.

Ng Eng Hen, Singapore's Minister of State for Education, says that the state ploughs 20 per cent of spending into education and is able to attract a third of the best graduates into the profession. "If you want teaching to be an attractive proposition, you have got to make it attractive," Dr Ng said.

Alan Laughlin, acting director-general of education and training in the New South Wales education department, said that school leadership is a critical factor. "Where you have successful leaders, you have successful schools."

Dr Laughlin said: "The big issue for us over the next 10 years is going to be the turnover of teachers and principals, 80 per cent of whom will be retiring. So leadership will become critical, particularly in building leadership capacity into the system."

Officials in all three countries stressed the need for teachers to have higher expectations of pupils, whatever their backgrounds. This was particularly highlighted by the New Zealand research on Maori education which made such an impression on Mr Peacock and which signalled the negative impact teachers can have on learners unless they change their "deficit" thinking (page one).

New Zealand has started a project on Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning. According to Mary Chamberlain of the country's education ministry, it is designed "to allow teachers to know what to focus on next, with the accent on progression so they don't get stressed out by what kids haven't achieved".

Martin Connelly, chief policy analyst in Wellington's education ministry, says that schools there have "high average achievement but a very long tail of underachievement", and one of the ministry's priorities is to strengthen quality teaching.

Dr Laughlin says that New South Wales has to move to a more flexible curriculum to engage 14 and 15 year olds, which requires "a move from systemic issues to an acknowledgement that what is important is what happens in the classroom".

The international consensus was completed by Singapore where Koh Thiam Seng, director of educational technology in the education ministry, underlined the challenge of "changing the mindset of teachers".

The plan is to encourage schools to move from "teacher-directed to pupil-centred learning".

Dr Koh said: "Teachers need to feel more comfortable with thinking beyond traditional boundaries and to appreciate that what is important is the interaction in class between pupil and teacher."

"Everyone is in the same territory," Mr Peacock observed.

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