Good heads can be mentors

16th September 2005 at 01:00
David Henderson reports from the Scottish Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society conference in Stirling

"Superheads" who are parachuted into struggling schools are not the long-term solution to underperformance.

Steve Munby, chief executive of the National College for School Leadership in Nottingham, last week advised Scottish heads and directors to focus instead on "shared leadership", bringing in successful heads to work alongside others facing difficulties.

Four out of 10 heads in England were classed as highly successful by the Ofsted inspectorate and should be brought in as mentors, consultants or school improvement partners, Mr Munby said.

Addressing the Scottish Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (Selmas) conference at Stirling University, Mr Munby, a former head and director of education, said that in some parts of England heads were taking charge of two to three schools in a quasi-chief executive role.

"Schools need to work collaboratively in the interests of children in their area," he said. "In England, there are 24,000 schools and it is asking an awful lot to have 24,000 outstanding leaders, but our system requires that.

We know 40 per cent are very good or outstanding, so how can we use them to support others?"

As inspectors south of the border had highlighted in their annual report, the two key factors that stand in the way of consistent improvement are the impact of social class on educational achievement and the lack of progress made by a minority of schools. The latter was often down to poor leadership.

"A significant number of school leaders in England are not coping well and are exhausted. They say it's too hard and unmanageable a job and some want out," Mr Munby said. As in Scotland, recruiting was a problem. The bulk of heads were nearing retirement and there was no system to fast-track future leaders. It took an average of 10 years to become a senior manager.

Mr Munby admitted the job was relentless, complex and publicly accountable.

This was especially so with the advent of the Children Act and pressure to raise attainment, while focusing on broader issues around children and families that involved inter-agency co-operation. Heads therefore had to manage "full service" schools as well as the curriculum.

The good news was that the public rated headteachers' leadership. A Mori survey put them top of the professional list, above officers in the Armed Forces, the police, doctors and MPs.

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