Sceptics await change of life

8th October 2004 at 01:00
I was struck last January by a TES article singing the praises of the revamped leadership programme for serving heads. I had just started it myself and wondered whether I would also find it a life-changing experience.

The course began with questionnaires about leadership style and school characteristics which my staff found time-consuming and bizarre. Technical problems also made the online element hugely frustrating.

At the three-day residential I felt like a "fish out of water", being the only independent sector head. The pace was slow and too methodical, and lacked a cutting edge; the questionnaire feedback mostly confirmed what we already knew. But we began to relax and enjoy each other's company, helped by some good practical group exercises.

Unfortunately by the end of day two we had reached saturation point in terms of new jargon, ploughing through the picnic hamper of course material, a particular percentage of which, our facilitators said, they were contracted to take us through whether it was relevant to our needs or not. They accepted us "hijacking" the next day and we ended positively with some valuable co-coaching sessions.

Day four saw us down to nine out of 12 and feeling strongly let down by absent colleagues. We spent a useful day revisiting targets, updating on progress and sharing issues that we face as heads. We arranged a day "four and a half", when seven of us managed to meet at school, and individuals also got together.

Day five loomed, with the second round of questionnaires coinciding with end-of-year reports, major events, Ofsted preparations - far from ideal.

Our loyal staff made time to answer those same obscure questions to help evaluate how our styles and the school climate had changed. In essence they had not, because six months is far too short a period for meaningful change.

On the final day the dialogue was fruitful, gently guided but increasingly autonomous, with reminders of some of the key principles which we had found applicable. We were a committed group who arranged follow-ups, so the ideal of lifelong learning could continue.

LPSH had its shortcomings, but our network was established. Time will tell as to whether it will be truly "life-changing". But we are sceptical and disappointed at the quality of the course, if this is the best on offer for serving heads.

Tim Johns is head of the Hawthorns in Bletchingley.Feeling aggrieved? Write us a 400-word Sounding Off and get paid as you grumble. Send it to

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