Goodbye compliance, welcome self-reliance

6th June 2003 at 01:00
Heather du Quesnay (left) believes the key to successful school management is to distribute responsibility among staff. She explains her thinking to Nic Barnard

Heather Du Quesnay believes one hallmark of good leaders is their willingness to take risks with members of staff, giving even new teachers the chance to lead projects. It is a philosphy that underpins the new leadership incentive grant.

The grant is the product of people "talking to each other": the Department for Education, Ofsted and the National College for School Leadership have all played a part.

The college - Du Quesnay is its chief executive - helped design the peer assessment tool that forms a key element, added names to the list of local consultants and, now that cash is entering school coffers, it is of course on hand to offer training to the lucky recipients.

Not surprisingly, she is keen on the grant, although she hopes that next year schools will have even more freedom to decide how they should spend it. Indeed, she would like to see it extended to primary schools. Their size means their leadership is "just as complex as in secondary schools".

Yet they already provide brilliant role models.

"In a school of eight or nine teachers, everybody is a subject leader," she says. "Many of them have already got learning assistants, more so than in secondary schools. But it's much harder in a primary school to release teachers from class contact. Even deputies get scant time away from teaching."

The quality of school leadership is improving, says Du Quesnay, even if the Government hasn't always helped. She talks about the pressure on schools to produce results creating a "compliance culture" in which people are too afraid of failure to take risks.

She's pleased that many of the plans coming forward from schools focus on middle management. If you can cope with a new buzz phrase, it fits in with her vision of "distributive leadership".

"The headteacher is a hugely important figurehead," she says. "But increasingly it is being recognised in all sorts of organisations that you can't be successful in the sort of fast-changing world we inhabit with a single source of authority. You have to have people with the capacity and encouragement to take initiatives at all levels."

Schools will always need hierarchies. But at the same time they also need a more informal, honeycomb structure so everybody can bring their talents to bear. The skill lies in striking a balance.

There are three parts to this, says Du Quesnay: you need a vision; a clear set of values; and you need distributive leadership.

"That means organising the school on a team basis, with lots of different sorts of teams - not just formal ones like the senior management team but teams that come together for particular projects. They can be led by all sorts of people, including newly qualified teachers or even people that aren't teachers."

So not just the the staffroom's safe pair of hands. "Heads should see themselves as coaches, she says. "It's about building people's confidence and sense of value to the school. When you walk into a school where it happens - and there are too many where it doesn't - you can feel the buzz in the atmosphere," she says.

It sounds good, but isn't it just the latest management fad? Du Quesnay says not, but adds: "I'm sure there will be other concepts that appear and they will be developed over time.

"These things don't stand still - there's no holy grail."

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