Prophecy proved pessimistic

12th May 1995 at 01:00
TOWARDS SELF-MANAGING SCHOOLS, Edited by Vivian Williams, Cassell hb Pounds 40 pb Pounds 13.99.

Mike Fielding finds a collection on self-management dogged by old fears.

Vivian Williams' prophecy in the preface that "the perspectives offered in this book compiled during the summer and autumn of 1993 will have been overtaken by events" is true in at least one respect: the rather pessimistic tenor of much of it seems curiously dated. As indeed do some of the slightly hubristic comments about the virtues of grant-maintained schools.

The main purpose of the book, however, is to chart some of the changes to schools brought about by the "legislative watershed" of the 1988 Act. This it does effectively. All the contributors have extensive experience of schools or educational administration and, for the most part, write straightforward analytical accounts of changes in which they have part-icipated.

The most significant of these is the new relationship between schools and the local education authority, and both Williams' argument for the need for a "district or regional education body" and David Church's plea for LEAs to be assured of a future reflect a fear of their demise that was more prevalent in 1993 than it is now.

Chapters on the impact of local management, headteacher app-raisal and the national curriculum will strike a chord with many school-based readers. And the descriptions of two transitions to GM status manage to acknowledge the unfairness of the system while making a convincing case for their own actions.

It is, however, in the final chapter, "Towards 2000 - Organisation and Relationships", that the most helpful thinking is displayed. While acknowledging the need for further research, Williams strongly promotes the idea of committed "followership" as the key to effective school communities in which "professional leadership" can be displayed by heads and others.

He develops a recognisable typology of "followers" within professional staffs, and then argues that more flexible levels of authority based on "earned" leadership will be required in self-managing schools.

Leadership will be exercised by more people in new and more defined areas. This begins to sound like project management but there will never the less be clear implications for training and selection procedures.

This is an academics' book from which reflective practitioners might glean the occasional important nugget.

What might not be too clear is the authors' definition of the term "self-managing" - seemingly synonymous with "grant-maintained" at some times, with the position of all schools at others. That again may reflect the uncert-ainties of 1993.

Mike Fielding is principal of The Community College, Chulmleigh, North Devon.

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