Forward to the 21st Century

29th November 1996 at 00:00

Be warned, says this book to educational leaders, the 21st Century School will need to be different. It will need to be so different that the institution you lead now may not survive huge leaps in information technology will overtake today's teaching and learning patterns, and a public demand for huge leaps in performance will explode upon hardworking heads, deputies and teachers with shattering force. If the response is to work harder still, we will kill ourselves for an inadequate improvement in performance indicators. Only if we work smarter, not harder will we and our institutions survive. Frameworks of local management are here to stay in the UK and worldwide, and now the second wave of self-maning reform must be to re-engineer schools from within. School leaders must use their new powers to effect a transformation.

All good "future shock" stuff, and we probably need professors such as Brent Davies ("sacred cows make the best burgers") and Brian Caldwell to jolt our eyes off today's practical problems towards the big trends advancing over the horizon.

But heads and deputies are so beset with the multiple accountabilities, and practical pedagogical concerns of this and the next minute that a purely speculative "futures" book is likely to remain on the shelf. Is there any reason why those leading self-managing schools should open its pages right now?

Well, yes there is. Futures thinking from the co-editors is balanced by a collection of pieces attempting to speak directly to today's school leaders about leadership ifself, about managing strategic change, about the realities of political reforms. Some of these contributions are really rather good. Alan Trotter has some useful analysis on the idea, and use, of leadership competencies, Viv Garrett's contribution on managing change shows a deep appreciation of the real world of the school; Tony Tuckwell and Mike Billingham give a pithy and acute analysis of how legislative and curriculum restructurings open up or deny opportunities for those seeking to manage improvement in teaching and learning. They are not afraid, thank goodness, to tell the truth that even the Dearing reformed national curriculum does not necessarily serve all our children well. John West Burnham's two pieces, on leadership and Total Quality are in some ways the best of all, offering thoughtful analysis on the difference between leadership and the mere holding of contractual accountabilities.

The book as a whole is positive. It seeks to energise leaders. It is also commendably free of jargon of socialese. I did feel myself that the future-gazing takes insufficient account of the brute fact that education is a uniquely people-working profession, as well as a production process. I sensed, too, some confusion between future changes to the educational system and future changes to society.

But, reading the 300 pages at one gulp, I found the collection, though at times a slightly uneasy mixture of contentious stargazing and practical management, actually "worked". It would, it seems to me, be a suitably provocative and yet practical volume for current and intending school leaders to work through. Preferably together and with much fierce discussion. This book is not the answer. No book is. But it could have real value as part of the required training for our task of modern school leadership.

The writer is Principal of Branston Community College, andVice-President of the Secondary Heads Association.

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