Fourth way of change

15th August 2008 at 01:00
Scottish heads and deputes have been told to avoid the English example of educational thinking. Henry Hepburn reports

What's the point of Scotland? If headteachers are to improve their schools they must know the answer, according to a world-leading educational thinker.

Andy Hargreaves told Scottish heads and deputes that a country and its schools had to have a shared and inspirational sense of purpose.

That meant learning from Finland - but avoiding the English example at all costs.

Professor Hargreaves, of Boston College's Lynch School of Education, advocates a radical "fourth way of leadership and change", which will be the subject of a book he is co-writing. The first three ways, he believes, have all been found wanting: post-war state paternalism; the 1980s' market-driven target-setting; and the combination of the two advocated by Tony Blair, which he described as a "destructive swirling tornado" which confused teachers with its conflicting messages.

"The first thing about the fourth way is an inspiring purpose and vision," Professor Hargreaves told the International Summer School on School Leadership in Edinburgh recently.

England, he said, could not find its voice about what it meant to be English. Their schools were full of competent teachers, but they were doing the same pre-defined courses and lacked creativity.

Professor Hargreaves, who is originally from Lancashire, believes that "the English have. no notion of where they have been and are going as a country - all they talk about is `world-class standards', but I have no idea what that means".

In stark contrast, he held up Finland as a pioneer of the fourth way.

Some years ago, having accepted that it lacked resources to compete in traditional industries, Fin- land decided to invest in people's skills and build a "creative knowledge economy".

Professor Hargreaves suggested that the country's schools shared a belief in the importance of creativity, so that, for example, children did performing arts until the end of high school. Schools had the freedom to decide locally, however, how to shape a curriculum to bring out the skills of its children.

Teaching was one of the most desirable careers for young people in Finland, even though it was not particularly well paid.

"It is the mission that attracts them," Professor Hargreaves said.

He added that everyone conected to a school should realise its vision. He advocated "more autonomy from government but less autonomy from parents' communities", and said student involvement has to be "substantive and run through everything the school does".

Schools should be wary of data as a catalyst for improvement, he said, pointing to two contrasting examples in sport.

Burnley Football Club used the ProZone data system to track players' movement during a game. The manager decided some players were not taking enough steps and demanded improvement. Players realised, however, that, while out of sight, they could take lots of tiny paces to increase their step-rate without extra effort.

"The truth is that, if you impose targets on teachers, they will end up taking lots of little extra steps that they need to take in order to get you off their backs," Professor Hargreaves said.

A better example was the Oakland Athletics baseball team and its "Moneyball" approach, based on the idea that received wisdom about effective players was subjective and often inaccurate.

In the 1990s, the Athletics began recruiting players who did not possess traditionally valued skills, but whose statistical performance in less glamorous - and crucial - aspects of the sport were impressive. This resulted in some physically unconventional-looking players, but allowed the Athletics to compete with more famous teams on a far lower budget.

Similarly, Professor Hargreaves believes intelligent analysis of data could help schools but must not drive them.

What did you learn?

The TESS asked delegates at the recent International Summer School on School Leadership for one message they would take away.

Neal McGowan, head of Larbert High, near Falkirk: "There was a feeling that people were in favour of greater autonomy for schools. International delegates were stunned that we didn't have the degree of freedom that we needed." Wonanji Msiska, headteacher of Mlambalala Primary in Blantyre, Malawi: "Unfortunately, some things we've learnt couldn't be applied in our country because we don't have enough resources. I'll take away the idea of seeing the potential for leadership in every child. It's a challenge to give children individual help, as you can have 3,000 pupils in one school and it's typical to have between 90 and 140 per teacher."

Sheila Smith, member of the national continuing professional development team: "Malachi Pancoast (American management consultant - see last week's TESS) said if you think you're in the busi-ness of education, you're wrong - you are leaders in the business of training and development. That is, our main purpose is to work through others and train other people."

Deirdre Torrance, Scottish Qualification for Headship co-ordinator, Edinburgh University: "I was encouraged by Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop's commitment to ensuring that the SQH programme continues to make a major contribution to leadership development for aspiring headteachers in Scotland."

Eileen Barnes-Vachell, educational consultant, EBV Associates: "We need to have a mission, and to underline the importance of inspiring and engaging people in its development, because you then get greater ownership of the direction in which the school is going."

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