Oh, to be a leader

31st March 2000 at 01:00
Effective School Leaders by John MacBeath and Kate Myers. Prentice Hall. pound;16.99 Effectiveness, Fracturing the Discourse by Louise Morley and Naz Rassool. Falmer Press. pound;14.99 Improving Schools and Governing Bodies by Michael Creese and Peter Earley. Routledge. pound;15.99 Building a Successful School by Mike Walsh. Kogan Page, pound;19.99 The Government is anxious that headteachers be trained, not just in the job's administrative technicalities - such as where to hide visitors' meals in the dinner money accounts - but in leadership itself. The problem with this is not just that leadership is hard to bottle and sell, but that among the good leader's recognised qualities is a willingness to cock a snook at higher authority.

In Effective School Leaders, MacBeath and Myers quote various studies that support this, and use as a reference point influential heads - Sanderson of Oundle, Arnold of Rugby, Neill of Summerhill - who have been thorns in the Establishment's flesh. But is the Government big enough to contemplate a training scheme that turns out not just critics but subversive opponents? You just have to hope so.

Of course, being a maverick is not a sufficient qualification in itself for effective leadership. They quote the example of Michael Duane, the progressive but ousted head of Risinghill comprehensive, Islington, in the Sixties. Duane, they say, was heavy on the vision, but light in other areas. Visionaries need real management skills too. "Without strategy, vision has no momentum. Without vision, strategy leads to a mundane place."

One of this book's strengths is the attention it pays to personal qualities. It draws attention to the differences between "competencies" and "competnces". The former is about the person's qualities, the latter the demands of the job. To this, the authors add the notion of "context", the idea that good heads "are often creatures of time and place", a dimension, the authors say, that is often ignored.

Heads, and teachers will find much to help them in this book.

School Effectiveness - Fracturing the Discourse, by Louise Morley and Naz Rassool, has a more academic purpose, and is a closely argued analysis of the history, politics and sociology of what is now clearly identifiable as the "school effectiveness movement".

Despite sometimes losing themselves in jargon - "Ischool effectiveness is discursively intertextual, informed by an eclectic set of conceptsI" - the authors tell a riveting and, at times, appalling tale. "Britain has experienced the largest percentage increase in income inequality internationally between 1967 and 1992... yet school effectiveness continues to be preoccupied with standards, not structures."

The two remaining books are highly practical and very easy to read. Improving Schools and Governing Bodies gives real pointers to the way that governors can support their schools, positively yet critically.

Mike Walsh's Building a Successful School is a real gem, full of credible analyses of what makes schools tick, with bags of good advice and case studies. The book's three final chapters are concerned with "Knowing what to do and when to do it" - supportive advice that covers such topics as failing teachers, long-term planning for continued improvement, and running the budget.

Heads working to improve their schools should read all these books but, if pushed for time, try Mike Walsh.


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