Heads and teachers don't have to do it all

13th October 2006 at 01:00
Regular readers of this column will know that I spent my one-term sabbatical and four weeks of my summer holidays doing a dissertation for my MBA. It is now finished and marked - a painful experience. My research was based on the implementation of the Every Child Matters and inclusion agendas. In my school, the two are inextricably linked and mutually complementary, but this was not the case in many schools I visited.

As expected, schools in challenging circumstances were more likely to be fully immersed in the ECM agenda and were doing their best to include youngsters with a wide range of needs. They needed to support children and their families in order to raise standards in their school. They acknowledged they could not do it on their own. This is certainly the case in our school.

Awareness of the agenda was patchy and there was much confusion about what it meant for schools. Ofsted (rather than perceived need) was the main driver for activity in this area in most of the more "successful" schools.

The link between standards and ECM was not properly understood in these schools. They saw it as an add-on that would enhance the support mechanisms for vulnerable pupils but would do little to raise standards.

Another finding was that the majority of schools and headteachers did not accept that they had a role as community leaders. They still saw issues in terms of the school, rather than the community.

Finally, and not surprisingly, it was harder to change things in successful schools. They were getting good results and did not see the need to change.

On the other hand, schools in challenging circumstances embraced the changes and saw the delivery of the ECM agenda as important.

The Government needs to clarify with heads and stakeholders what their role is in delivering the agenda if it is serious about the changing role of schools. It needs to be far more explicit about its expectation, and all schools need to be involved, not just troubled or disadvantaged ones.

Second, government needs to drive home the message that ECM is the step-change needed if we are to continue to raise standards. Third, schools need to ensure that they have a full understanding of inclusion policy and practice. Some are focused only on exam grades rather than on the needs of individual children. But we have a responsibility for all children, not just those who get good results. Understanding the principles of inclusion is paramount if ECM is to succeed.

Finally, heads need to be persuaded to accept their responsibility as community leaders. They need to distribute leadership across the school and build it within the local community. The work the National College for School Leadership is doing in this area will achieve this, but changes will happen very slowly.

The recent furore about extended schools is worrying. Heads are adamant that they do not want more responsibility and do not have extra hours that they or their teachers can work. They believe that ECM is not their core business. The point is that heads and teachers don't have to do it all.

They need to allow others to lead, to share responsibility with support staff and other agencies and professionals. We need to work to develop community leadership so that the community can provide its own safety net for vulnerable young people and not be dependent on the professionals.

Kenny Frederick is headteacher of George Green's community school in east London

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