Innovation - go crazy

12th September 2008 at 01:00
`Compliance culture' must be a thing of the past, says Education Minister

Hire crazy people, get teachers teaching each other, elect teachers and support staff on forums to stimulate "democratic leadership", and talk up the "fantastic privilege" of being a headteacher - these were among the recipes for running creative and effective schools aired at an education leadership conference in Stirling last week.

Iain White, head of Govan High in Glasgow, espoused the "crazies", adding: "Recruit dull people and they'll make everything dull."

Creativity, Mr White suggested, was based on a mix of the "crazy, weird, freaky, scary and brave". It could be "risky and messy".

Addressing the annual conference of Selmas (Scottish Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society), Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop did not go so far, but she signalled an end to the "compliance culture" in Scottish education and called for "positivity and innovation".

This was echoed by Tim Brighouse, of the London University Institute of Education, who suggested an improving school should display four features:

- teachers talk about teaching;

- teachers observe each other at work;

- teachers plan, monitor and evaluate together;

- teachers teach each other.

Professor Brighouse, who has run schools in Birmingham and London, urged schools to learn from the power of marking pupils' work. "How we mark has a profound impact on whether we are learning to fail or failing to learn," he said. "It's under-discussed in our schools, yet it is a huge opportunity for coaching."

Leading a school was not just a matter for leaders, the conference heard. Ms Hyslop said teachers had to "provide leadership in their classrooms and develop leadership in their pupils", which meant they had to be confident and motivated in their teaching if they were expected to turn out confident and successful pupils. "Leadership capacity in schools has to be mobilised and unleashed," she added, repeating her view that chartered teachers must be key players in that exercise.

Colin Russell, headteacher of Dean Park Primary in Balerno, underlined the importance of "democratic leadership". His school has a "leadership forum", which includes two elected members from the teaching and support staff.

The curriculum is delivered through four faculties - health, enterprise, ecology and citizenship. Each is led, not by someone from school management, but by an expert teacher (one of whom is a chartered teacher; others are working towards CT status). He is a mere member of the citizenship group.

Mr Russell commented: "Not only are they in authority, they are an authority. That translates into effective leadership."

Despite this theme of "dispersed leadership", however, the conference agreed that the headteacher was the pivotal figure. Ms Hyslop underlined the importance of attracting teachers to seek heads' posts and said she expected the research report she has commissioned on headteacher recruitment from Cambridge, Edinburgh and Glasgow universities to be with her by the end of the year.

Rory Mackenzie, head of Balerno High, told her funding was critical in making headship more attractive. That included investing in the induction of new heads, giving them more support staff and paying them more. He was supported in his call for higher salaries by Judith McClure, the Selmas convener. "Pay does matter for what is a way of life, not just a job," she remarked.

But Dr McClure, who is head of St George's School for Girls in Edinburgh, said heads had to talk up their job and assert what a "fantastic privilege" it was. Succession planning was also vital, a point backed by Matthew MacIver, the outgoing chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

Ms Hyslop side-stepped the pay issue and said that, while she recognised there were "practical barriers" in the way of persuading teachers to become heads, now was not the time to talk about salary increases when "hard-pressed families" were struggling with household budgets.

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