By Adrian Percival and Susan Tranter
Management Skills in Schools: a resource for school leaders
By Jeff Jones
Paul Chapman Publishing pound;18.99
A TES leader on January 7 pointed out that the three final candidates for the director's post at the National College for School Leadership were all chief education officers. It commented wistfully: "It seems that never having led a school is emerging as a prime requirement for the job of overseeing the support and training of those who do." Quite.
Here are two books aimed at school leaders, with contrasting provenances.
Adrian Percival and Susan Tranter are head and deputy at the Matthew Arnold school in Oxford, so there is no credibility gap here. Theirs is a book written from the heart of a real school, a refreshingly opinionated text which occasionally espouses views that run counter to expectations. There's a robust defence of school uniform, for example, and of the need for close monitoring -such as tutors signing pupils' diaries each week. There are also some fairly blunt assertions. For instance: "It is a truism to say that the main reason for poor behaviour in classes is lack of challenge and boring teaching."
It's clear that these two run a tight ship. They argue persuasively, and unfashionably, in favour of having a deputy head whose role is dealing with discipline. How old-fangled is that? They also include examples of forms used for reviewing lessons and checking that tutors have signed planners each week.
The weakest parts are the first and final sections. The opening chapter, "The best job there is", takes a generic view of leadership. It says all the right things, quoting some gurus you'd probably expect (ex-chief inspector Chris Woodhead) and others you wouldn't (ice-cream manufacturers Ben and Jerry), but you sense the authors straining at the leash to get to the nitty-gritty.
Similarly the final chapter, a kind of rallying call, feels a little rhetorical. The chapters on governance, finances, teaching and learning, school culture and targets are the guts of the book, and admirably practical. Inevitably there are times when you feel you're being indoctrinated with a Matthew Arnold school house style, but that's not a problem. For a new headteacher, this book gives a confidence-building introduction to all the bits of the job the National Professional Qualification for Headship doesn't touch.
Jeff Jones is senior consultant and head of training at the Centre for British Teachers in Reading. This is the home of the key stage 3 strategy.
I expected, therefore, a book of worthy but slightly detached advice written by someone who lacked credibility. In fact, Management Skills in Schools is a terrific digest of many important issues, built around a clear structure that helps the reader absorb information quickly.
You'll find a huge range of resources here on many essential topics of school leadership: developing teams, motivation, time management, running meetings, handling conflict, coaching colleagues, and many more.
More than anything, this is a summary of good practice, with lots of built-in opportunity to reflect on our own work. For the sheer scale of the references to educational gurus, it's worth the cover price: here's everything you need to quote.
Occasionally some of the headings promise more than they deliver.
Crucially, there's not enough that directly addresses the role of all school leadership roles in improving the quality of learning and teaching - the kind of monitoring material that is such a feature of How to Run Your School Successfully. But they are two different books with contrasting purposes. Management Skills in Schools is essentially a handbook about managing people, and it isn't afraid of broaching difficult issues, such as handling conflict. Here the advice is calm and wise, kicking off with Walt Disney chief executive Michael Eisner's comment: "Why is there no conflict at this meeting? Something's wrong when there's no conflict."
Overall, the book demonstrates the beauty of someone writing with slight detachment, able to absorb the best of current theory and translate it into an eminently practical format. It's a text I would recommend to leaders and aspiring leaders at all levels in schools. I'm not sure that a single book can fully prepare you for the realities of any management role in school.
But books such as these definitely sharpen up your principles and give a kind of emotional nourishment. Both wear their learning skimpily: neither sets out to impress with its authors' learning. Instead you feel that, despite their quite separate pedigrees, both are designed to provide realistic practical guidance and support.
Geoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI school, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk