Now we are all headteachers
The public craving for leaders is insatiable. How we yearn for heroes without feet of clay to inspire us, reassure us, to rescue us from the latest crisis, to take off our shoulders the responsibility for creating Utopia. Educational reports repeatedly declare the "vital role" of headteacher. Politicians ponder whether a headship qualification should be compulsory. The School Teachers Review Body comes under government pressure to insist on performance-related pay for heads. When schools hit the news, journalists and presenters click back into unthinking childhood organisational perspective, and refer to all leaders as "headmasters", confirming educational leadership as both an individual, and a male quality.
Meanwhile among professionals, a 20-year revolution has been altering the very idea of school leadership. In secondary schools at least, the modern reality is that of the leadership team. More than a decade ago the Secondary Heads Association admitted deputies to membership, as co-leaders of the nation's schools. Professionally, the debate has long moved on. The question now is not whether there is a senior management team, but about recognising the leadership role of everyone in departmental or pastoral leadership, and of every classroom teacher.
This new reader tries to recognise this reality and to explore the concept of leadership in the light of it. For me, it is a volume welcome in intent, and not without success in execution. Of the 14 chapters, I rated seven as definitely hitting the target.
It begins well with a section on the idea that leadership is an organisational quality. This must be right. Well-led organisations have more leadership - they grow it at many levels. Leadership is not limited to a committee of one - nor is it a fixed quantity, to be shared out only by giving the boss less. A strongly led school is strongly led by many.
The first four chapters are all on target, very usable by practitioners to help them reflect on their experiences and ways of operating (though one interesting question that emerges is whether headship of a primary school is the same kind of animal at all).
Part two - on teams - opens well with a piece from Les Bell, a commendably clear thinking, yet down-to-earth paper, particularly on the importance of what is sometimes called the middle-management role of subject or pastoral team leaders. He correctly points out that the prime criteria for appointment of often personal expertise, but the prime function of the post is the ability to lead a team, a different thing.
Not that specific knowledge and experience is unnecessary. The volume usefully ends with the business guru John Adair fulminating againt the "modern heresy" (written in the Eighties, this) "that a management science exists that can be transferred from one industry to another". This has "bred shallow managers who cannot assess the competencies of those who work for them". Education take note. All in all, a useful volume, because it gives a useful message, and a source book for formal or informal in-service education.
Paradoxes of leadership remain. If a leader works through others, exactly how is he (or she) a leader at all? Is team-leading itself an individual trait? It is always easy to point to gaps. Why nothing on governing bodies? And, perhaps the book only hints at the moral role of the educational leader in fighting for professional autonomy for teachers, and for the essentially spiritual nature of education.
We must ask ourselves this: if we want the next generation to have civilised, thinking, creative professionals as daily classroom leaders and role models, must not educational leaders promote a view of schooling where teachers are more than mere obedient technicians, and are motivated by more than the curriculum decisions created by central committees? Indeed they must. Teaching, like leadership, comes from the burning heart as well as the calculating brain.
* The writer is president-elect of the Secondary Heads Association andprincipal of Branston Community College, Lincolnshire