So what makes a leader?

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
The Scottish Executive's key policy of developing leadership in schools, including that of teachers, should be treated with caution, one of the country's leading academics has warned.

Pamela Munn, dean of education at Edinburgh University, was speaking while taking part in the first of five conversations on major educational issues, staged to mark the 40th anniversary this year of The TES Scotland.

Professor Munn asked: "What does leadership in the classroom actually mean?" She said the first task of the teacher was to manage learning and their job had to be kept closely in line with the development of pedagogical skills and subject knowledge.

She was supported by Stephen McCafferty, human resources director at Standard Life, who said he had difficulty with the concept of everyone as leader. "There are people who are natural leaders," Mr McCafferty commented, "but that doesn't mean that others are not important."

Rory Mackenzie, headteacher of Balerno High, said the constant emphasis on leadership by HMIE left staff feeling "a bit miffed" at the assumption that a school is all about excellent leadership. Mr Mackenzie said leadership mattered at all levels.

Ailsa Stratton, principal English teacher at Boroughmuir High, said staff saw inspections as "one-way traffic", with HMIE coming along to tell them what to do. There should be more dialogue and conversation.

Gavin Devereux, a leading entrepreneur, suggested that the job of school leadership was to raise young people's esteem and develop a "can-do" attitude.

Meanwhile, Robert Brown, Deputy Education Minister, said he was a convert to the notion that leadership in schools is crucially important. And Donald Henderson, head of the teachers' division in the Scottish Executive Education Department, which has just published a paper on what it means by leadership, made it clear there was no moving away from the current emphasis, given the 15 per cent of schools that were said to have weaknesses in this area.

It involved leadership in the classroom as well as at the top of the school and ranged from preparing people for new posts to ensuring that those in leadership roles were kept refreshed.

The seminar also heard concerns about what Roy Jobson, director of children and families in Edinburgh, described as "the impossible tasks we are setting some schools" because of the many influences that are outside their control.

There was agreement among several participants that the policies set out in A Curriculum for Excellence were "inspirational", in the words of Mr Mackenzie and Lindsey Robertson, head of Castleview primary in Edinburgh's Craigmillar. But she expressed concern that the objectives for learning set out in the document, such as that it should develop responsible citizens, confident individuals and effective contributors, were now all going to be measured.

Mr Devereux suggested it was possible, over time, to measure the growth in the confidence of young people.

The confidence of teachers was also an issue in the leadership and performance of schools, it was agreed. Nicola Richards, chief executive of the Columba 1400 initiative, said she was struck by the contrast in staff from the corporate and public sectors. The latter are "almost crushed" and took much more time to recognise their own strengths.

Carol Craig, chief executive of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being, suggested that, if significant changes are needed, "it is better to take a big group of staff and make small changes, rather than one or two individuals trying to make major changes".

Mr McCafferty agreed. "You have to concentrate on two or three things at a time and do them," he said. "If you have to face audits all the time, you are not going to be able to focus."

The TES Scotland seminars, which will run each month until January, are being organised and chaired by Ewan Aitken, the local authorities'

education spokesperson, and supported by Learning and Teaching Scotland.

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