Learning how to lead

4th December 1998 at 00:00
Pat Collarbone and Rowie Shaw say the new National College for Leadership must produce people able to liberate the brainpower of their organisations

The Government is to open a National College for School Leadership. But in planning this very welcome development care must be taken to address the future needs of school leaders which will be radically different from those at present.

There is a fundamental need to reinvent our education system. Over the past few years, a growing number of pundits have begun to argue that despite decades of reform there has been little evidence of real change or measurable improvement in school standards.

At a US conference last year attended by more than 1,000 school leaders from 31 countries, delegates agreed that our current curriculum and teaching methods are in many important respects unable to meet the needs of today let alone the future.

In his seminal book, Learning Beyond the Classroom, Tom Bentley has recently called for a revolution in the kind of learning opportunities we should offer young people and the structures needed to achieve this.

We welcome the use of the word "leadership" in the proposed title of the college. There has been rapid recent growth in the discourse on leadership and management. Essentially management deals with the status quo and the immediate future. It is transactional. Leadership is a set of processes that creates organisations and adapts them to significantly changing circumstances.

Leaders create vision (a realistic and appealing picture of the future) and strategies (a logic for how the vision can be achieved). Leadership is transformational. Future leaders will need to be skilled in turning visions into reality.

Discontinuity and uncertainty have become the hallmarks of the latter end of the 20th century. We are going through a knowledge revolution which will result in the emergence of a new society with expectations, values, aspirations and organisations different from the present. The school has lost its former virtual monopoly on teaching and learning. New expectations and demands from stakeholders will define the school of the future, how it operates, what children are taught and how they are enabled to learn.

There are various models emerging for education in the future. All view the school as a learning community - but do not limit this to the school's physical site. As information and communications technologies develop, there will be dramatic changes to learning and teaching.

The school day will be transformed as will human resource management. There will be re-examination of the type and use of the school buildings and resources. A wide range of professionals and para-professionals will support learning with access to the world's "great teachers". There will be team learning with an emphasis on pastoral care for both students and teachers and the development of equity and access policies to ensure all benefit from available learning resources.

The technology and wherewithal to deliver such a vision already exists within our educational system, and well-publicised experiments are already available for consideration in our search for preferred future models of learning.

Different leaders will emerge in these scenarios, all with a different role to play within the learning community, but all will need to collaborate. Future models may well require a radical redefinition or even separation of the managerial or administrative functions from the pedagogical and moral leadership of learning communities.

But there remains a central role for leaders to release the brainpower of their organisations. This will involve constantly reinventing the organisation, creating new opportunities and an environment that embraces change.

Leaders will need to promote a moral dimension that maintains a sense of values and resolves issues of equity that will inevitably arise. In addition, they will have to be designers and stewards of a global perspective as traditional boundaries disappear.

Leadership attributes will need to include a strongly defined sense of purpose, the capacity to articulate a vision with meaning, the ability to share the vision, to be willing to live the vision day in and day out, generating trust, displaying a willingness to take risks, and to learn from that experience.

Management is now well understood and the management requirements are addressed through the National Professional Qualification of Headship. Consequently it is on the development of leadership qualities which the future college will need to focus.

A national college should prepare school leaders for leadership in learning communities. The curriculum of the college should draw flexibly on the best practice and key initiatives offered by the Department for Education and Employment, the Teacher Training Agency, the professional associations, higher education, the National Foundation for Educational Research, business and industry and the Leadership Centre, both in this country and overseas.

But, above all, it must look to the future. For, as the sage said: "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got."

School management, 24

Dame Pat Collarbone is director of the London Leadership Centre and Rowie Shaw is director or professional services at the NAHT. Both write here in a personal capacity.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today