Leading from the middle

18th May 2001 at 01:00
The needs of staff outside top management need to beconsidered, say Alma Harris and Paul Hammond.

Leadership is clearly back in fashion. The title of the National College for School Leadership - not headship, please note - is symbolic. The pool of prospective leaders is much wider than just heads. For those of us who have been labouring to highlight the importance of team and teacher leadership among the middle orders these words are encouraging .

But who are these middle "leaders" ? Traditionally, they would be heads of department or "subject leaders" in primary schools. Most recent research has focused mainly on this group - teachers who lead pastoral and cross-curricular teams are forgotten.

In many primary schools every teacher co-ordinates or leads some curricular area. In small primaries they may have more than one leadership role. So what opportunities are they given to prepare for it? Specialist courses do exist, but their quality varies. To date there has been no entitlement for training. Lucky teachers get the chance to work as second-in-charge alongside an able practitioner, see best practice in other schools, or attend a training programme. Generally, teachers embark on middle leadership roles with no formal trainingand no proper support.

But there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The new college can shape this neglected area of professional development. It is developing a programme for those outside senior management teams, which will include training in lesson observation, feedback, coaching, mentoring, and training-needs analysis.

It is imperative that such programmes meet the real, rather than perceived needs of teachers and avoid narrow competency-based models of training. The limitations of such courses, to influence either teachers or classroom practice, are well established. Instead, a fundamental re-thinking of professional development is required that embodies alternative approaches to professional growth, such as mentoring, shadowing, coaching, secondments in other schools and distance learning. Such opportunities will be useful and rewarding to teachers, and will also ensure that effective leadership practice is shared between and within schools. If so, the goal of sustained school and classroom improvement looks suddenly much more achievable.

Dr Alma Harris (alma.harris@nottingham.ac.uk) is a reader in education at Nottingham University. Paul Hammond (chorty@rmplc.co.uk) is a deputy head at Tring school, Herts

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