Desperately seeking leadership

17th August 2007 at 01:00
If we are to move away from the league table, target-setting mentality that reflects the consumerist and managerialist approach to education, then we need to grasp the idea of the importance of real leadership in schools with both hands.

By leadership, I mean not the creation or promotion of charismatic indidviuals whose personality is stamped upon the school, nor authoritarians whose very word is law. By leadership, I mean the way in which a school community discovers and lives out its values and the role played by everyone in it in articulating and living out those values.

Some will have a more prominent role than others. Some will have the task of bringing out leadership in others, and some will be leaders in specific areas. Others will have leadership tasks that transcend the whole school. There will be roles for staff, pupils, parents and the community.

Such things do not happen by accident. They are the building blocks of what HMIE calls ethos, and many people will say they can just feel or sense it when they enter a good school.

The challenge for Fiona Hyslop and her fellow Cabinet ministers is in working out how both to nurture and measure the effectiveness of excellent leadership without, in the same act, undermining it. And perhaps more importantly, how to draw together the work now happening through things such as summer schools, Columba 1400, Learning and Teaching Scotland, the national CPD team, the Society for Educational Leadership, Management and Administration (Selmas), local authorities, The Hunter Foundation, the universities, the Scottish Qualification for Headship, the initial teacher education programme, Tapestry and many more into coherent pathways that are tailor-made for each person's needs, aspirations, abilities and context.

We must make sure that, whatever the pathway, it is a journey that does not end with the point of accreditation or the appointment to a new post or role as leader.

Last week, I briefly revisited the Columba 1400 centre in Staffin on Skye where I had an outstanding week two years ago with a group from one of Edinburgh's "tough realities", as the Columba 1400 folk would put it. I heard from the senior programme director Stevie Siegerson their plans for expanding their work to help ensure the change they bring about in helping their graduates find and use their leadership potential is not lost.

Leadership potential and the nurture of leadership qualities means digging deep into our human self-understanding. That cannot simply be taught intellectually. Whatever the role of a leader in a school community, the power to be a leader and the effectiveness of that leadership comes from within their being as well as their thinking. We cannot measure that, but we know we need it.

Fiona Hyslop herself must now lead so as to draw together what is happening into a coherent whole, but in a way that does not stifle the same leadership potential it aims to nurture.

Ewan Aitken

is the former leader of the education authorities

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