As Scotland prepares to host an international gathering of secondary heads next week, Neil Munro reports on the latest developments at home
An innovative leadership programme for heads, in which staff rate their school managements in a "360-degree" evaluation, has been voted a major success.
All the heads whose schools had been inspected by HMI and who had taken part in the programme run by the Hay Group were judged as "very good" or "good" for the effectiveness of their leadership.
The Hay Group, a consultancy specialising in leadership and motivation, ran its programme with 40 heads from Orkney and Clackmannanshire - and then followed up to see what impact their training had had on the schools.
The follow-up included analysing staff views before their heads took part in the programme, and again a year later. It found a 10 per cent improvement on a six-point index of the quality of the "school climate" (see panel). A report from the Hay Group suggested this was an important result "since climate impacts directly on the amount of discretionary effort and commitment staff actually make".
Keir Bloomer, Clackmannanshire's chief executive and its former director of education, believes the leadership programme "has had consequences in terms of children's education.
The programme has contributed to the quality of leadership, and so in 17 of the 19 primary schools in Clackmannanshire, leadership has been rated (by HMI) as good or very good. Certain individuals have become much more effective headteachers and, in my view, the programme has played an important role."
One person who has benefited substantially from the programme is Craig Rennie. He was promoted to become head of Clackmannanshire's largest primary in Alva after taking the Hay course. He confesses to have been in something of a rut professionally, with a spell as nine years in charge of St Serf's primary in Tullibody.
He described his experience on the Hay programme as "extre-mely gratifying and the most successful of all the courses I've been on". Fortunately, in his case the views of his staff and his own evaluation of his management coincided. "It could have been an uncomfortable experience if it had not," he added.
Mr Rennie said that, having taken part in team-building exercises in the past, "I thought I knew myself pretty well but I wasn't confident that others did.
"The programme gave me a boost. It gave me confidence in seeking other people's opinions instead of being concerned that, if I did, I might not like the re-sponses I got. It also encouraged me to have closer relationships with other headteachers, particularly in having an open and honest dialogue about problems we might have. This led to a more general recognition of the importance of supporting each other."
This sense of "seeing yourself as others see you" and having the self-assessment of one's own worth confirmed was a high point for other heads as well - although, again, they were ones whose staff saw them as they saw themselves.
Lynn Whitelaw, head of Papdale primary in Kirkwall, appreciated the chance to find out "how well am I really doing and how do the staff perceive how well I'm doing?"
She says many heads find this a confidence-booster - assuming there is a positive outcome, presumably. "Although you are always reviewing your own work as a matter of course," Ms Whitelaw continues, "here are staff saying 'this is what you're really good at'." In her case, the programme forced her to look again at the way she offered staff praise, encouragement and reward. "They feel I do that but I feel I need to be more discriminating, praising appropriately and more specifically.
"That, of course, involves indicating where there are areas for improvement in a way that's supportive and not threatening or upsetting. That's hard to do with staff."
Ian Ballantine, the head of Kirkwall Grammar, also found the programme made a difference. As a long-serving member of the school staff - former head of biology and depute - he knows his staff well and they know him.
"That has its downside in that they do know you and perhaps I made too ready an assumption that they knew my views and my values. If I'd come to the job as an outsider, I wouldn't have made that assumption. So I have now made a distinct effort to make sure that all staff are aware of my values and of the direction in which I wish to take the school."
Confidence is a word that keeps cropping up in the heads' re-sponses. One, reporting anonymously, said: "I think I've got tougher in myself and realise now I'm not trying to keep the team as best pals. Previously people thought if things weren't right it must be management's fault, and they wouldn't take on responsibility.
"Now I ensure they know their responsibility in the team, and I find they are less demanding of me now, and so I can get on with other things." Craig Rennie says the programme made him aware of the variety of skills which headteachers have, compared with leaders in other spheres.
"You forget how you switch from one set of skills to another in the course of a working day. One minute you're involved in sales and marketing, then market research and then there's the social work aspect as well as teaching itself."
SIX MEASURES TO TEST THE 'CLIMATE' OF A WELL-RUN SCHOOL
"School climate" is the key indicator used by the Hay Group to analyse how well schools are run. This involves six measures:
* flexibility: are there any unnecessary rules or procedures affecting teaching?
* responsibility: whether heads allow staff to get on with the job and have accountability for the results;
* standards: the extent to which heads emphasise the setting of challenging and realistic targets or strive for excellence;
* rewards: the value placed on staff work and different recognition for different levels of performance;
* clarity: whether staff are aware of "the big picture" and how their role contributes to it;
* team commitment: the extent to which staff feel they have a common purpose and are proud to belong to the school.
The Hay programme also looks for feedback on leadership styles:
* coercive: "Do it the way I tell you," looking for immediate compliance;
* authoritative: "Firm but fair," setting standards and monitoring performance;
* affiliative: "People first, task second," emphasising staff's personal needs rather than achieving goals and standards;
* democratic: "participative", building commitment and rarely giving negative feedback;
* pacesetting: "I'll do it myself", being apprehensive about delegating and taking responsibilities away if high performance is not forthcoming;
* coaching: "developmental", trading off immediate standards of performance for long-term development and results.