More tips for those at the top

16th January 2004 at 00:00
DEVELOPING EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP: Using Evidence for Policy and Practice. Edited by Lesley Anderson and Nigel Bennett. Sage Publications pound;18.99

EDUCATION MANAGEMENT IN MANAGERIALIST TIMES. By Martin Thrupp and Robert Willmott. Open University Press pound;19.99

THEORIES OF EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT. By Tony Bush. Sage Publications pound;19.99

SCHOOL LEADERSHIP. Edited by Jim O'Brien, Daniel Murphy and Janet Draper. Dunedin Press, pound;9.95

THE ELEMENTS OF LEADERSHIP: WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW. By Sarah Noonan. Scarecrow Education pound;20.95

The supply of new books on management is apparently endless. Increasingly, they focus on education. How valuable are they? What, if anything, can practitioners or policy makers learn from them?

That's the question Developing Educational Leadership sets out to answer.

How, in real life, do you negotiate and evaluate mountains of research material? For the contributors, the answer lies in "systematic review" - whereby a given field - leadership studies, for instance - is "mapped" into its component parts and the research that relates to those elements (much of it now on the web) systematically surveyed for validity, relevance and applicability. These are researchers writing for researchers, remember; even so, they admit it is easier said than done.

Philippa Cordingley reminds us of the extraordinary complexity of the classroom, and the difficulty researchers have in pinning down what she calls the teacher's "tacit knowledge" of how it can be managed. Ray Bolam and his colleagues, long experienced in the analysis of leadership, come to the heretical conclusion that leadership perhaps isn't, after all, a sub-set of management, and that the attempt to map it may actually distort it. And Rosalind Levacic and Ron Glatter, pioneers in evidence-informed policy and practice, remind us that the use to which educational research is put may distort it too.

That final message is one of the concerns of Education Management in Managerialist Times. This argues not only that there are far too many texts on educational management, but also that many of them are flawed because they take for granted the instrumental and sterile managerialism of the times. In particular they accept that education must of necessity be turned into a market.

On this basis the authors take most of the key figures in the literature to task - David Hopkins and Michael Barber on school improvement, for instance, Brent Davies and Linda Ellison or Kenneth Leithwood on school leadership, Chris James and Una Connolly or Keith Morrison on effecting change or David Hargreaves on school development planning - and find them sadly wanting. Overtly or subtly, we are told, these writers are apologists for neo-liberalism and the New Right. Even Michael Fullan, guru of the school reculturing movement, faces this indictment.

What we need instead, the authors say, is research that is "more politically astute" and "more committed to social justice". Such as what? Disappointingly, the authors don't tell us. Nonetheless, this is stirring stuff - a necessary reminder that neither educational research nor educational solutions are always as objective as they seem.

In Martin Thrupp and Robert Willmott's terms, Tony Bush, author of Theories of Educational Leadership and Management, is a subtle apologist too, because his approach analyses neither the context in which current theories of management emerge nor the educational implications of how they might be applied in schools. There is some justice in that criticism, but Bush's book, now in a third and revised edition, is a textbook, not a work of theory, and it is written at the level a potential school leader needs.

School leader, note: what is new in this edition is the emphasis on leadership as a central element of management.

But leadership to what end? The question emerges most insistently in the slim volume School Leadership, published in Scotland in the Policy and Practice in Education series. The conventional answer has been "school improvement" - which is, as this book suggests, less than half an answer.

Context is all-important; and values matter too. So, surely, does democracy. Hence, perhaps, the scepticism that runs through these pages about running schools on rationalist, managerial, controlling lines. All in all, it's well worth reading - not least for its Scottish reminder that good schools can operate in contexts very different from the English pattern.

Which is also the message of The Elements of Leadership. This comes from a US academic, but is refreshingly jargon-free. Indeed, it's rather homely: lots of anecdote, lots of reassurance. Its strength is its insistence that context (she calls it "situation") matters more than systems; that leadership, like education, is shared learning; and that leadership in action is, in the end, always value-driven. Occasionally, that is sentimental. It's not a bad antidote, all the same, to those who see "management" (or even "leadership") as the answer to every problem.

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