Primary heads fight back

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
The leaders of Scotland's primary heads have reacted swiftly to criticisms of school leadership by HMIE in its Improving Scottish Education report last week. A series of training courses will get under way later this month.

The heads' association points out, however, that, if primary school leadership is to become more effective, more people will have to become more interested in it. It says there have been only 5.4 applications for each headteacher post in the past three years, and cases where there have been no applications at all are rising.

The Association of Head Teachers in Scotland blames the teachers' agreement for burdening heads and says that, previously, more than 10 applicants for a primary headship could be expected.

The AHTS is now signalling its support for school management as a whole with a makeover, renaming itself from today as the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS), which it is highlighting with advertisements in The TESS.

The HMIE report said the latest evidence from inspections showed that 17 per cent of leadership in primary schools was only fair or unsatisfactory, the same levels as in secondary schools. The handling of self-evaluation in primaries was found to have important weaknesses in more than a third of primaries, although that is better than the 45 per cent figure in secondary schools.

Greg Dempster, the AHDS's general secretary, said: "We recognise, along with HMIE, that there are weaknesses in school leadership, so there is a need for bespoke leadership training for education professionals. There are lots of leadership courses out there, but we're interested in courses that are tailored specifi-cally to the needs of our members."

After a training needs analysis by the association, the respected team from Learning Unlimited has been drafted in and will kick off with a course on "the motivating leader" on March 22, which will focus on self-awareness and self-motivation among staff.

Future courses include "making leadership work," aimed at helping people identify their strengths and potential weaknesses; "worklife balance and how it can work for you, your team and your pupils"; and confidence-building.

The HMIE report identified lack of vision and strategic thinking as a major weakness in pri-mary schools, allied to poor relationships with staff. A lack of engagement with what goes on in the classroom was another factor, as well as "a limited understanding of how to develop the school's capacity for self-improvement".

Meanwhile, a focus group of AHDS depute members found that the majority would like to become headteachers but deterrent factors included uncertainty about management structures, especially in small schools, and the appointment process itself.

Deputes were, in effect, saying that job interviews were too simplistic. Mr Dempster said: "They said they would prefer a more rigorous approach than the short interview, which does not give them the opportunity to showcase their talents and skills. It favours those who are good at interviews rather than good at their job."

One depute said: "I was far less stressed about HMIE inspection than about attending an interview for headship." Another factor cited by primary deputes was that they can often be paid more as a depute in a larger school than as a head in a smaller one. Many noted that "the pressures of their own job were unrealistic, so they were unwilling to take on the top job", the AHDS states.

The association repeated its call for job-sizing to be reviewed so that all headteachers, irrespective of the size of school, should earn more than deputes. Deputes in the AHDS focus groups "wholeheartedly agreed," saying "there must be recognition of the fact that the buck stops with headteachers".

The AHDS represents 275 deputes out of 1,400 members in nursery, primary and special schools.

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