So much more than managers
LEADERSHIP training for headteachers needs to do far more than teach them to package, deliver and market education as a commodity.
It also should recognise the crucial social role of education and prepare heads for the contemporary spiritual, moral and ethical dilemmas of leading a school - insights that are largely missing from the National Professional Qualification for Headship, argues Professor Gerald Grace of the London University Institute of Education.
In the latest British Journal of Educational Studies, Professor Grace takes issue with "education management studies" - a body of research and writing that has emerged after two decades in which a managerial and marketing culture has come to the fore.
Education is increasingly regarded as a commodity to be "packaged", "delivered" and "marketed" as efficiently as
possible, he says.
He says the ideology of management has begun to dominate the language and actions of many working in education.
"The title of headteacher ... has historically signalled the school leader's prime relation with knowledge and the curriculum and with pupils, teachers and pedagogy."
Its replacement in education management studies, by the role of "senior manager" or "chief executive" suggests different priorities, Professor Grace says. He even suggests that this transformation was deliberately engineered to diminish the professional autonomy of headteachers and wrest from them control of social and cultural change.
"Historically, headteachers have been powerful definers of the culture, organisation and ethos of schooling and of social relations.
"It is no surprise to find that various political agencies, who wish to change the culture and ethos of schooling, realise the strategic importance of changing the consciousness, values and behaviour of headteachers and, more fundamentally, of changing the nture of headship itself."
Professor Grace says the NPQH as the required gateway to headship has to be viewed in this larger socio-political and cultural light. "The NPQH is not simply a technicalprofessional programme for headteachers; it is also a strategy for cultural transformation."
While accepting that heads needed preparation to face the challenges of local management and greater accountability, he says his own research also indicates that contemporary headteachers do not feel prepared to deal with the range of moral, ethical and professional dilemmas they face.
A study of Catholic heads revealed that the new ideology challenged the moral and spiritual purposes of their schools, their historical commitment to the poor and powerless and the principles enshrined in their mission statements.
"They find themselves at the meeting point between Catholic values in education, with an emphasis on community and conceptions of the common good, and market values in education with an emphasis on individualism and private good."
Their spiritual, ethical and intellectual needs were not being met in their training.
"If school leaders are to realise the full potential of educational experience for the pupils and for society then they must themselves be formed and reformed in more comprehensive and inclusive ways than at present."
Preparation for school leadership should cover all aspects of the professional role. "The discourse and understanding of management must be matched by a discourse and understanding of ethics, morality and spirituality, of humane educative principles, of the praxis of democratic education of the power relations of class, race and gender in education and some historical sense of the place of schooling in the wider formation of society."
Research and the challenges of contemporary school leadership: the contribution of critical scholarship by G Grace, British Journal of Educational Studies, Vol 48 No 3 September 2000