So how charismatic is your director?

12th March 2004 at 00:00
I wonder that The TES Scotland lead story on February 27 headlined the sparkling HMI report from South Lanarkshire. All credit to Maggi Allan, executive director for education, who must be absolutely delighted to have 10 very goods and one good out of the 11 quality indicators on her report card. Congratulations on a brilliant performance!

So I logged on to the HMI website to peruse all 74 pages of the report. I was riveted. With responsibility for 124 primary schools, 21 secondary schools and nine special schools, South Lanarkshire is Scotland's fifth largest local authority.

This makes the glowing report all the more remarkable because it is a considerable achievement for a large organisation to develop and foster the strong interpersonal links and skills which characterise the report.

It is these people skills that make the report an uplifting experience and I can only compliment the authority on its success. South Lanarkshire is praised for its strong sense of direction and purpose which inspire commitment and motivation among staff. We read that all share an unambiguous and powerful vision of education as a force for raising peoples' inspiration. Only high-quality leadership and boundless charisma can unlock such missionary zeal. All credit to the executive director of education and her team.

So what do teachers want from their local authority? Recognition and celebration of success are obviously very important and, tellingly, 91 per cent of secondary heads feel that this happens in South Lanarkshire.

Elsewhere, statistics are bandied about in all kinds of arenas and schools are often rapped over the knuckles by their local authorities when they don't meet their targets. How often are schools praised when they surpass their targets? How many times have you been given a pat on the back by an officer from your local authority for good results?

Yet teachers are repeatedly reminded of the need to give their charges positive feedback. On the face of it, it's such straightforward psychology.

Acknowledge and praise your employees and they will feel warmly appreciated and probably even more committed to doing well in the workplace. But there is a snag.

If you don't have relatively high self-esteem yourself you don't possess the emotional intelligence to give others the praise they are due. Maybe then some local authorities need to look more carefully at the individuals they are recruiting to manage their education departments. Having the required qualifications is not enough. Persons with high-calibre interpersonal skills will do the best job.

The climate seems right, too, to say something about what local authorities do to make sure that subjects - in primary and secondary schools - continue to grow and develop. This is increasingly important with the widespread demise of advisory services and the blurring of middle management roles.

It is vital that there are mechanisms to discuss how individual subjects might improve to the benefit of the pupils. With all the ticking of boxes - and there is far too much of that - the life of subjects can be choked by bureaucracy. And yet, who in your local authority has responsibility for this crucial task? Do you ever speak to such a being?

So it's no problem for teachers to come up with plenty of priorities to exercise the minds of their local authority lords and masters. Hmmm? I was intrigued, though, to find out how Maggi Allan is perceived by the troops on the ground in South Lanarkshire and so I did a little research. No surprises there if you have read the report. Approachable, a careful listener, very astute and an executive director of education with high expectations of her staff are just a few of the accolades festooned on her by my contacts.

Actually, come to think of it, I'd like to meet her. Well done, South Lanarkshire.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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