Don't try to be a Sugar, heads told

17th March 2006 at 00:00
Reality TV programme is no model for the classroom. Nicola Porter reports

BBC2's reality show The Apprentice provides compelling viewing for millions of people across the UK. But headteachers in Wales have been warned not to follow the all-powerful style of leadership modelled by Sir Alan Sugar that is gripping the programme's fans.

Self-made business tycoon Sir Alan has been seen reducing apprentices to tears before firing them on the spot.

Welsh-born professor Alma Harris said his style of heavy-handed leadership made good TV but was no way to run a school. Speaking at the launch in Wales of iNet, the international networking for education transformation scheme managed by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, Professor Harris called for more "distributed" leadership in Wales.

The National College for School Leadership in England has been promoting distributed leadership - a more democratic form in which responsibility for leading and improving a school is spread beyond the head - almost since its inception in 2000. But Wales has no equivalent organisation.

Professor Harris, director of Warwick university's institute of education, said younger heads of department were needed to fill the shoes of an ageing population of heads nearing retirement.

But she said egos sometimes got in the way of the passing on of vital leadership knowledge.

Professor Harris, who used to teach at Mountain Ash comprehensive in Rhondda Cynon Taf, told delegates: "I am hooked on The Apprentice, but the way Sir Alan leads is not good in my book.

"There is a role for charismatic leaders in schools, but heads must involve everyone in some way so they feel valued and appreciated.

"They must question whether they are in the job for the good of themselves or the school."

Brian Rowlands, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, said distributed leadership was the way forward. So far six Welsh schools have signed up for iNET, which encourages the spreading of good practice by providing links with schools in countries such as South Africa and Chile through online resources and global events.

Last week's Cardiff launch was intended to attract more Welsh schools to the network, but only around 16 were represented at the iNET conference - a lower-than-expected turnout.

Its parent body, the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, is keen to distance iNET from its main remit in England of promoting the setting-up of specialist schools and academies. Wales has rejected both these developments.

Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, made it clear Wales was mapping out its own policy.

However, she told the Cardiff conference that the country should strive not to be insular, and to embrace good practice from across the world.

Three Welsh schools - Cardiff high, Eirias high in Colwyn Bay, and Barry comprehensive - gave examples of good practice to the conference.

Jason Hicks, assistant head at Barry comprehensive, outlined how its emphasis on key skills was adding value to the school's personal and social education programme.

Parents, business and the local community were becoming more involved in the processes of target-setting and mentoring, he said.

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