Headteachers are not for cloning

7th October 2005 at 01:00
It was reported in last week's TES Scotland that the Educational Institute of Scotland's response to the consultation on a revised standard for headship was of the opinion that mentoring by experienced headteachers will produce clones, that charismatic leaders were old hat and that collegiality is the way forward. The Association of Head Teachers in Scotland does not entirely agree.

Neither the standard for headship nor mentoring is about creating superstar heads or clones. The standard is about setting out for aspiring and current headteachers what is expected of them; indeed it does so effectively.

Mentoring, when done properly, is a process of helping less experienced colleagues to examine situations and select the best course of action. To suggest this will produce "clones of an approved system" insults the ability and intelligence of new and aspiring heads and appears overly critical of what is proving to be a genuine consultation process.

We do agree that parachuting in a charismatic leader is not a recipe for sustainable long-term change. We also agree that school leadership is a whole- school affair rather than resting solely with the headteacher.

However, there are two key strands of school leadership - leadership by headteachers and leadership emerging from the rest of the school (staff and pupils). A headteacher has ultimate accountability for hisher school. With that comes the responsibility to lead the school in the interests of its pupils. Headteachers must decide when to lead from the front and when to let others in the team take the lead and contribute to direction.

To put it in terms used at the recent SELMAS conference, this is "distributed leadership versus final accountability". It is hard to imagine that the teaching workforce at large would argue for all decisions to be taken collegiately, but they would expect an opportunity to be a part of the decision-making process.

So, we agree with the EIS that collegiality is an important piece in the puzzle of effective school leadership and management. It is important that all staff in Scotland's schools work together to deliver the best possible service to our children - indeed there are already lots of examples of good practice across Scotland.

Unfortunately, what I have been hearing from my members in a number of areas is that their staff have been told by local representatives that "collegiate time" is "EIS time".

If we all agree that proper, effective, collegiality contributes to well-run schools, then let's adhere to its principles.

Greg Dempster

General secretary

Association of Head Teachers in Scotland

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