Headteachers and middle managers have quite different ideas about how best to make their schools more effective, according to research reported in the first edition of a new journal, Improving Schools, which aims to bridge the gap between theory and practice in school improvement.
When headteachers and heads of department from 55 schools were asked to identify the factors that contributed most to school effectiveness, 79 per cent of heads emphasised a strong and cohesive senior management team; 66 per cent cited a shared belief by staff and students that the school was primarily a place for learning; and 64 per cent good leadership from the head. High-quality teaching with regular monitoring were also priorities for 60 per cent of heads.
When asked what the barriers to greater effectiveness were in their schools, 72 per cent blamed inadequate leadership by heads of department and the staff's low expectation of pupils; 70 per cent blamed the social background of pupils; and 55 per cent cited poor teaching in some departments.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the heads of those departments saw things a little differently. Staff commitment and enthusiasm were their top priorities for greater effectiveness (71 per cent) followed closely (70 per cent) by good leadership from department heads. High-quality teaching and making "students feel valued as people" (both 49 per cent) came next.
A heavy workload, large classes and excessive administration were the biggest impediments to greater effectiveness.
"These results provide no magic solutions," say the researchers from the London Institute of Education, Pam Sammons, Sally Thomas, Peter Mortimore, and Adrian Walker. Sharing these contrasting perceptions about strengths and weaknesses could be painful, the researchers say, but it could help stimulate the discussion needed "to develop a shared vision and commitment to common goals".
Improving Schools is a new journal published three times a year. It aims to be a forum for useful research and case studies of successful practice. The January issue includes articles on teaching handwriting in France, school improvement and the arts and boys' underachievement. It is available on subscription (pound;45 a year) from Trentham Books, Westview House, 734 London Road, Oakhill, Stoke-on-Trent ST4 5NP. Tel 01782 745567.