Too little, too late for Hunter

17th March 2006 at 00:00
The Hunter Foundation has withdrawn a pledge to donate pound;100,000 a year towards the pound;500,000 per year school leadership project because the Scottish Executive was taking too long to make things happen. But the Executive intends to press on regardless.

News of the first rupture in the hitherto close relationship between the foundation and the Executive came as Peter McFarlane, said to be one of America's most successful school principals, arrived in Scotland to spread his message on "transformational leadership". Dr McFarlane is the kind of international expert whose success the foundation is anxious to share with Scottish schools.

Ewan Hunter, chief executive of the Hunter Foundation, said: "One of the philosophies of the foundation is investing in milestones and targets and we did not feel, with due respect to the Scottish Executive, that we were really seeing much in the way of leadership change."

Mr Hunter said the foundation - funded by Scottish entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter -still had an absolute commitment to education and would continue to work in partnership with the Executive in a number of areas.

"Ultimately, we will have disagreements and that is healthy as far as we are concerned," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Executive said: "We are currently recruiting experienced staff for the leadership project. It takes time both to identify staff and secure their release, particularly when dealing with teachers. It is very important to get the right people in place for this kind of work."

The gap in school leadership is being met partially through the Columba 1400 leadership academy, also supported by the foundation. But Mr Hunter insisted: "We need to do more and more quickly. This should not be difficult in terms of enabling other organisations to deliver educational leadership capability to the market."

He added: "I guess we were just incredibly ambitious and didn't feel we were moving very quickly."

The original plan was to create a small team to drive school leadership forward by identifying best practice in other countries and adapting it to Scottish education.

Mr Hunter said that the foundation had withdrawn its offer of funding a few months ago when the planned team was still not in place and it appeared that the Executive was determined to attach the leadership group to the existing continuing professional development team led by co-ordinator Margaret Alcorn, which is based at the headquarters of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities in Edinburgh Last year, the foundation along with a handful of senior education officials visited a leadership academy in New York, a project at Harvard University which involves collaboration between the business and education deans, and another project on the West Coast. It is understood, however, that the foundation was frustrated that little, if anything, has been done to develop the ideas gleaned there.

It is in New York's Harlem district that this week's US visitor to Scotland has honed his own brand of successful leadership which he described to Falkirk Children's Commission on Monday as "distributing leadership to empower the community to have a greater voice in education".

Dr McFarlane is credited with turning around Hugo Newman preparatory school, which the New York Times once dubbed the worst in the city. Despite having 94 per cent of its 474 pupils rated as economically disadvantaged, 65 per cent now attain their grade level in reading and 90 per cent in maths; five years ago when he arrived, not one pupil did so.

He believes "there are four crucial steps to improving a school: aligning its curriculum with standards, employing the best teachers, engaging in professional development and building a community".

Dr McFarlane adds: "You need to listen and learn from your colleagues because they have a wealth of knowledge to bring to the table. A lot of principals forget they are in this position because they are learners themselves."

The Harlem school has placed health as well as education centre stage because Dr McFarlane believes "healthy schools require healthy families".

Ten of the 60 staff are specialists in physical and mental health. A family support team includes a social worker, counsellor, psychologist and "intervention specialist".

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