Manager or scholar for the top job?

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
Mark Brundrett looks at the alternative CVs for the head of the Leadership College.

NOW that the announcement of the new director of the National College for School Leadership is imminent and the problem of whether to appoint a head- teacher, an industrialist, or even an academic, has been resolved, the recipient of the reported pound;100,000 salary will face an imposing task.

It is unfortunate that the uncertainty about which curriculum vitae is the most suitable should have been exposed. It is partly because we are not sure whether we wish headteachers to be experts in industrial management or

curriculum and teaching.

This dual role has also been responsible for some of the tensions in the creation of the various headship programmes. In using a competency model of training, the Teacher Training Agency adopted an industrial or business oriented model of

leadership development.

The competence-based systems of assessment find their roots in the scientific management movement of the Twenties but came to prominence during the Second World War when the military began to devise methods for assessing the suitability of

candidates for challenging roles. Such systems were subsequently adopted by big corporations in both the US and Britain.

The modern "competency movement" as a system of education and training came historically much later when, in the late Sixties, the American academic David McLelland became interested in devising methods of training and assessment which avoided the bias of more traditional forms of academic education. Indeed, McLelland went on to help found the international management consultancy firm Hay-McBer, which holds the contract to oversee the programme for serving headteachers.

Competence-based training

systems began to form a greater element of business programmes in Britain after the publication of the Handy and Constable and McCormick reports in 1987. They have become almost

ubiquitous appearing in diverse initiatives such as national vocational qualifications, MBAs, and, of course, all Teacher Training Agency programmes.

Their great advantage is that they can provide well-defined

systems of training and assessment against clearly stated

objectives, thus enabling employers to have some confidence that those who complete them will be able to undertake a given job.

The countervailing argument is that the system offers an inadequate and even simplistic notion of education. It has been attacked as being "reductivist", "atomistic" and relying on a "list logic". Anyone who has been a headteacher, or observed one, will tell you the job is so varied as to defy any simple definition.

This critique is popular among academics who feel that true

"education" is about a holistic development of the individual. Indeed, at the same time as the rise of the competence movement, higher education has createda wide range of courses for school leaders. It is hardly surprising that much of the academic

criticism of the Teacher Training Agency programmes has stated that they neglect to take account of research evidence and that they fail to offer suff-icient credit to those who complete higher degree programmes. This has led some to feel that there is an irredeemable gulf between the two schools of thought.

One can imagine that if the competency model were to prevail an articulate entrepreneur would be the ideal leader for the National College for School Leadership. If the academic argument were to predominate then an experienced headteacher or academic with a background in headship might be more appropriate.

The choice may not be as stark as the analysis so far suggests. Research reveals that higher education programmes are becoming increasingly responsive to business models. Most academics who manage courses of study in educational management are at pains to explain the professional relevance of their programmes; their methods of teaching and assessment increasingly emphasise the need for candidates to prove their competence through professionally focused tasks.

Systems for the accreditation of prior learning are also

flourishing and many institutions are now prepared to offer remission from the requirements of their courses to those with relevant achievements. It is equally true that the TTA did much to ensure that the weaknesses of

earlier competence-based systems were avoided when it created its programmes.

Recipients of Headlamp funding, for newly-appointed heads, have always been able to seek out academic courses that were offered by registered providers and met identified and agreed needs. It is also true that the NPQH, the programme for

aspiring heads, really consists of a complex amalgam of training and educational methodologies and attempts to draw on both the best experience from business and from academic research into school effectiveness and

improvement. In reality such

programmes can best be described as falling within the broader notion of the development of "capability" that emerged in the last decade.

It is nonetheless true that we are in danger of seeing the emergence of two contrasting systems of school leadership education, one business and practically-

focused, the other more

academic. This is unfortunate since both sectors have much to learn from each other.

The prospectus for the

Leadership College has made it clear that there is a desire that the two should be much more closely inter-linked. Its director, whether from a background in business or in education, will need to ensure that this happens.

Dr Mark Brundrett is principal

lecturer in education at De Montfort University. His book on the development of headship training will be published by Peter Francis later this year.

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