Diversity, but not compulsion

19th January 2007 at 00:00
What are we supposed to make of the latest government study on school leadership? Will a future envisaged by PricewaterhouseCoopers (page 1) result in our state schools being strangled by management, leaving the field clear for the independent sector to focus on teaching and learning as its unique selling point? Or will it, on the contrary, enable heads and their staff to focus more than ever before on the learning process instead of wasting their efforts on unblocking toilets?

It is clear from another study, by Buckingham university, that independent school leaders already regard headships of state schools as a turn-off, no doubt contributing to the looming recruitment crisis. In their view, culpability lies with central government for interfering too much, offering "independence with a big thick collar and chain". Indeed, the PWC report acknowledges that school leaders are fed up of "initiativitis", caused by too many inconsistent and under-funded government initiatives.

A superficial reading of the report does not inspire great confidence that Whitehall is (finally) learning not to interfere. One hopes the idea that "rotating heads" could take turns to run school clusters will be quietly forgotten, while the authors' enthusiasm for pushing "the right management behaviours" will need to be watched.

But at heart the report is a sensible account of what is already happening in a rapidly evolving school system. Traditionalists may grumble, but if schools are to become centres for children's services and provide access (in the case of secondaries) to a full range of academic and vocational training, then their leadership structures will have to change too.

Collaboration between schools to share services - and even staff in some cases - is also sensible, especially if it enables a hard-pressed primary head to concentrate on teaching and learning instead of unblocking the loo.

The acid test is whether the Government will now promote a diverse approach to leadership rather than push every school in a particular direction. Schools must be free to develop their own approach to fit local circumstances. Good leadership practice is to be encouraged and government has an important role to play. But true leadership means knowing when not to interfere.

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