Persistent but flexible? You could be head

12th October 2007 at 01:00
To transform a struggling school, you need the traits of successful business people, Nick Hilborne reports

ARE YOU open-minded, ready to learn from others, flexible rather than dogmatic, persistent, resilient and optimistic? If so, you might just have the qualities required to lead one of England's more challenging state schools.

Professors Alma Harris of Warwick University and David Hopkins of London University's Institute of Education investigated whether claims about the impact of school leadership on pupils' achievement were supported by evidence from international research.

They found that school leadership was second only to the quality of teaching in its influence on learning in the classroom.

In particular they found that unplanned headteacher succession, commonly known as "revolving doors", was one of the most common reasons for failing schools, despite the efforts of hard-working class teachers.

"Studies demonstrate the devastating effects of unplanned succession, especially on initiatives intended to increase pupil achievement," the professors said.

They found that appointing a new head was a crucial strategy in turning around struggling schools.

"As far as we are aware, there is not a single documented case of a school successfully turning around its pupil achievement trajectory in the absence of talented leadership," they said.

Their research also highlighted the importance of the way power is devolved within schools, or federations of schools, on raising standards.

The professors found strong evidence of the powerful impact of teachers' emotions on their work in the classroom, and the impact of leadership on those emotions.

Recent research showed the character traits needed by headteachers hoping to transform struggling schools are similar to those found in successful business people, the professors said.

"The most successful school leaders are open-minded and ready to learn from others. They are flexible rather than dogmatic in their thinking, persistent, resilient and optimistic.

"Such traits help to explain why successful leaders facing daunting conditions are often able to push forward when there is little reason to expect success."

Professor Harris said the overview was part of a much bigger study led by Nottingham University on the impact of school leadership. Now in its second and final year, the project has involved researchers interviewing teachers, support staff and children at more than 100 state primary and secondary schools across England.

Three other universities Warwick, London's Institute of Education and Toronto University in Canada are working alongside Nottingham on the study.

"This is the first study in this country to look in detail on the impact of school leadership," Professor Harris said. "I know of one other in Canada and another in Tasmania.

"We are trying to find out to what extent leadership makes a difference and how we can prove this."

* 'Research into the Impact of School Leadership on Pupil Outcomes' by Alma Harris and David Hopkins, educationresearch

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