Conference gave me a new hope and inspiration;School management

8th October 1999 at 01:00
Headteacher Lynn Gee is abuzz with stimulating thoughts about the value of education after the annual BEMAS talkfest.

Headteacher Involved in Porn Scandal" was the headline of the Manchester Evening News as the British Educational Management and Administration Society's annual conference began last week. Was this significant? Probably not. But when the conference theme was "Values, Equity and Leadership", the headline illustrated the link between values and education. We must get it right.

This year the BEMAS conference was held in Manchester University. It was a gathering of the great and the good in the field of educational management and "Values, Equity and Leadership" were what we got, in large measure. As a headteacher from a village school in Aberdeenshire, I found it stimulating, and would recommend it to raise flagging spirits.

What was on offer ranged from the highly academic and philosophical to the more practical. Although the pace was hot, the balance seemed right. At times I felt like an undergraduate. It is a long time since I grappled with concepts like "value", "equity" and "cultural isomorphs".

I would like to thank Professor Christopher Hodgkinson, from the University of Victoria in Canada, for inviting me to think about "infra" and "supra-conscious" values. I have no idea, however, why his lecture was called "Sex, Sin and Seduction".

But it did seem important that we consider the philosophical background. If we can't define "values" and "leadership", then how can we as educators understand what motivates our behaviour? The concepts of "leadership", "equity" and "values" are imprecise. BEMAS was absolutely right to focus on them.

There were plenty of educational researchers at the BEMAS conference. Some had great things to report, others little. Is it a great revelation that the cultural differences of the East, based on centuries of Confucianism, have an effect on educational policy making? I think not. On the other hand, Dr Janet Ouston of the University of London presented some quite rivetting and disturbing research showing how poverty in inner London affects the life-chances of 86 per cent of children.

It did occur to me that there is a huge "industry" of educational research. Much of it is self-generating and self-perpetuating. Some, however, has great relevance to the future of society and education. Why does so little of this research seem to inform educational policy?

The LEA point of view was also represented by former director of education, Kathy August. She based her values on the simple question "Is it good enough for my child?" This was a heartening reference to what I believe is at the heart of education - the children.

The highlight was three headteachers who spoke with passion about their work. This was no dry, academic delivery. Yvonne Bates spoke of "turning round" the "failing" Lilian Baylis School in London. She spoke of the negative effects of the "naming and shaming" policy on staff and students, her mission to raise morale and standards and her success. Carolyn Clarke told of her work to improve learning and teaching in Bartley CE Junior School, Southampton. Liz Duffy of Wycombe High School in Buckinghamshire spoke with conviction of her need for self-awareness to do her job well.

This was impressive stuff. Here were examples of "values", "leadership" and "equity" in action that gave me a sense of almost religious renewal. So often our work's purpose can be lost in trivia and daily moaning. Here were three headteachers who knew exactly what their purpose was and where their values lay.

What did I learn? Quite a lot. My brain is probably on the point of explosion. I learned how Ofsted is viewed with contempt south of the border. I learned that many English colleagues were unaware of the differences in the Scottish education system. I learned from a South African colleague that more teachers in Africa die of AIDS than can be replaced. And I learned that Manchester is warm and welcoming - the Lord Mayor gave us a reception. This conference made me think. I hope these thoughts will influence how I do my job.

Lynn Gee is headteacher of New Deer Primary, Aberdeenshire

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