Time to improve leadership

8th May 2009 at 01:00

Enjoying the search for enlightenment as you struggle on with your outcomes and experiences? Things are really challenging, aren't they? There is a simple solution to clearing the fog surrounding A Curriculum for Excellence - improve leadership at every level of Scottish education. Leadership in schools is fairly crudely cobbled together when you consider that most people in leading positions from middle management upwards have no actual qualifications to lead. Some of them also lack the skills to do so.

Education is unusual in that leaders are chosen by default rather than proactively for their leadership capacities. Compare us to the National Health Service. Their leaders have come through the ranks of academic training specific to management, whereas teachers are promoted from the classroom and often have no formal training in anything outside their subject discipline. Few chief executives of health service trusts would have been medical doctors, for instance, whereas all promoted teachers started off their professional lives in the classroom.

I rather like the leadership qualities listed in NHS documentation. Leaders with self-belief have a "can do" approach and are shapers rather than followers. They will also be self-aware, perceiving that their behaviours have an impact on others. They will be tenacious and resilient in the face of difficulty. A deep sense of vocation will be driven by the needs of service users which, in our case, would be pupils. Outstanding leaders will bring a sense of integrity to what they do that enables them to lead to the best of their ability.

They will seize the future, being prepared to undertake transformation for the benefit of schools rather than just slow incremental change. High- performing leaders are able to switch from the significant detail to the big picture because they have intellectual flexibility. They will have political astuteness and, crucially, the skills to influence relationships which are critical to achieving successful change.

It's a tall order for all of us in management to exhibit such skills. Yet look around and see lack of money causing good ideas to crumble. We are pared to the bone as we run around trying to buy the most basic of stuff for our schools and still finding it too expensive. But crushingly demoralising though that is, it's not the worst thing.

The most depressing thing about leadership now is that most leaders are just "yes" people who put government policy into practice. Leaders used to throw down the gauntlet and challenge their political masters. Charisma and protest used to be requirements for the effective leader. Too much rebellion is now seen as something to be dealt with and neutered out of existence. The popular collegiate approach deadens original thought and allows the shirking of responsibility. All teachers should be protesting against education policies if they deem them to be detrimental to Scottish schoolchildren. People who want to be leaders should be vocal in their criticism of government policy, be it of A Curriculum for Excellence or anything else.

What do we have to lose? Look at how authority figures are behaving. You go on a protest march and you might get a good beating from the police for just breathing. Our politicians are assiduously coining in expenses as they supervise the breakdown of our society. It's time for leaders in education to express vigorous dissent; in so doing, they will protect democracy.

Do good senior management teams exist? 31

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

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