The head's view - What a difference three years make

12th September 2008 at 01:00
As the new academic year gets under way, I find myself full of enthusiasm for school leadership. But I feel strange because there don't seem to be masses of new initiatives to introduce, at least not for those of us in the primary sector.

Have I missed something? Is the sword of Damocles about to drop because I have ignored a vital piece of paper? I vividly remember 2005 and seeing the remodelling guidelines on my desk, with a ridiculous timescale for the structure to be ratified and accompanied by an implementation plan. Telling schools they had three years to instigate it didn't help in a term which also witnessed the arrival of the Every Child Matters agenda, and the Self Evaluation Form (SEF).

Three years on, I still don't like the SEF. It is overly repetitive, and I object to being told how to present our self-evaluation. I don't much like the online school profile either. Why does the Department for Children, Schools and Families insist on telling us not just what to do, but how to do it? It reminds me of Henry Ford's comment that you could have a car in any colour you liked, so long as it was black: you can have any school vision you like, so long as it concurs with the DCSF.

However, I think the Government can congratulate itself on the other two, especially workforce reform. I particularly liked the opportunity to remodel the workforce because several of our staff work in extended roles outside school, and we needed to ensure that the internal capacity was being built to allow for it. Therefore we deliberately restructured to develop a system of curriculum teams at middle-management level with responsibility for groups of staff.

This involved creating opportunities for teaching, and non-teaching staff to work within parameters of accountability unheard of before. The result has been to create genuine distributed leadership as staff have the opportunity to make decisions based on agreed school improvement priorities and report to the leadership team, but not ask permission of it.

The responsibility for ensuring quality of education for children is still ultimately in the remit of the head. But the use of team leaders has dispersed the responsibility of performance management to others. This offers good quality, relevant and continuous professional development for team leaders, backed up by external support and training.

Encouraging this way of judging the quality of teaching and learning has allowed schools to be led by those who are not qualified teachers. How desirable this is remains to be seen. I am not sure if workforce reform has worked because of the design of policymakers or the pragmatism of the profession. It might be both.

Sue Robinson, Head, Cherry Orchard School and Children's Centre in Birmingham.

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