Skye bridge to inspired leadership

25th June 2004 at 01:00
A management training programme was just the starting point for empowering Govan High staff and pupils to achieve their potential, writes head Iain White

As a graduate of the Headteachers' Leadership Academy, I was delighted to read Jacques Chezeaud's article on his experiences at the Columba 1400 leadership centre on the Isle of Skye (TES Scotland Plus, CPD pull-out, May 21).

His summary concluded with the question "Where do I go from here?". At Govan High in Glasgow we, too, have asked that question and for us another journey has begun.

Owing to the support of Glasgow's education department, all four members of Govan High's senior management team experienced the Columba 1400 course between November and May and, without exception, we rated it the best, most insightful, inspiring and practical training experience in all of our careers.

Apart from its practicality, it seemed to reinforce the approach to leadership that we have been trying to achieve throughout my 10 years'

headship at Govan High.

The senior management team's role, as stated in our staff handbook, is to "provide leadership which encourages everyone in the Govan High community to achieve their full potential in a school where learning and teaching is of the highest quality. This leadership will promote positive relationships, encourage creativity and risk taking and set high expectations". It just so happens that this is in complete accord with the Columba 1400 philosophy.

Our experience was made powerful by the non-directive coaching tools we received. It enabled us to focus again on the school's and our own core values, to refine our vision and give impetus to our quest for empowerment throughout the school community. What's more, it provided the practical mechanism to take us forward.

Churchill told Roosevelt in 1941: "Give us the tools and we will finish the job." At Govan High, we may now have the tools we need.

Our first task was to share what we had learned with all our colleagues. On an in-service day in April, senior management team members talked about the background to the leadership academy, the principles of non-directive coaching and how Columba 1400 had assisted the Archbishop Michael Ramsey Technology College in London in its turn-round.

If we were serious about the empowerment agenda, we had to demonstrate that clearly. It is not something to which the hierarchical nature of educational leadership lends itself.

We started with a series of one-to-one meetings with all unpromoted staff - support and teaching - using the techniques of non-directive coaching to enable them to examine their role in attaining the vision. This inverted the traditional pyramid of power at a stroke and put the emphasis on the lowest point of the hierarchy.

Individual contributions were confidential, but the generalities of what emerged were discussed by the senior management team. From that, we were able to analyse what needs to be done to move forward.

Members of staff could choose who on the senior management team would coach them. I thought these sessions would be more about the coachee, but so many colleagues are communicating that they like and even love working in the Govan High that is now developing. Surely this belies the tired message of low morale trumpeted by the vociferous minority in our schools.

The Columba 1400 feedback loop - What went well? What was tricky? What would we do differently next time? - has been used by us to analyse a recent development that revolutionised our Primary 7 induction programme into something called Skills, Thrills and Fun. Certain crucial skills were identified and then explored with the P7 pupils using a murder mystery format.

The approach was developed by a team of staff. The two induction days were a tremendous success and we were interested in encouraging the staff to reflect upon the experience and suggest what comes next. One of the leadership academy consultants, Gavin Devereux of Mindscreen, worked with them to look at the key questions during an after-school session. The group will now take things further and make suggestions as to how this skills-based approach may impact on curriculum delivery in S1.

This sits really nicely with our attempts to devolve decision making to the most appropriate people and facilitate ownership and empowerment.

So, too, does the benefit for the children. A number of S3 pupils assisted the staff and the P7s, leading the youngsters through their paces and acting as guides and mentors. The S3s showed a great sense of responsibility and maturity and developed ownership of the process as a result.

Already we are making successful use of our Columba 1400 training. It lends itself perfectly to our quest within Govan High to do the best that we can to enable our pupils to achieve their potential.

We want a school where learners are self-empowered and where their employability skills are maximised. When this is achieved, their positive future is assured.

It may be a long way to Skye but it is as nothing compared to where the leadership academy experience may take Govan High and our students.

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