Creativity and Innovation in School Leadership: Realising the Potential of Curriculum for Excellence was the theme for this year’s Scottish International Summer School on School Leadership, again held in Edinburgh’s Royal College of Surgeons.
 
Bruce Robertson, Aberdeenshire’s Director of Education, stated that a much enhanced leadership capacity is essential to implementing Curriculum for Excellence.  He praised the leadership of Scotland’s last two education ministers, Peter Peacock and Fiona Hyslop but questioned whether, across Scottish schools, there existed the quality of risk-taking leaders able to grasp the current challenges.
 
Robertson stressed that a solution-focused, ‘can-do’ leadership would not be limited by outdated hierarchies and that a 3-18 curriculum could not be delivered in 20th-century structures, quoting his own authority’s rebuilding of Alford Academy as an inclusive 3-18 centre.
 
Bob Fryer, Chair of the Campaign for Learning, was enthusiastic about Scottish education.  An era of profound and wide-spread economic, social and cultural change, all gave Curriculum for Excellence its significance.  Living in an age of risk, of unreliability and uncertainty, relevant and engaging learning is essential if human beings are to reassert any ability to affect their own lives.
 
What kind of learning, Fryer asked, will be required for young people to surf that society with delight?  Learning to know and to do, education for knowledge and skills, were no longer sufficient.  Imagination, inventiveness and creativity were essential in a world of uncertainty.
 
Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Education and Life-long Learning praised the positive qualities of Scottish education, particularly the highly skilled, qualified and motivated teaching force but insisted on the need to reverse the recent decline in reading and maths standards.  Confident and resilient young people required confident, resilient teachers as role models, committed to values based schools.
 
She insisted, despite discussion in England on the virtues of selection, that the Scottish government was committed to comprehensive education and noted the OECD’s endorsement of the inclusiveness of Scotland’s comprehensives.  She also emphasised the need to identify and nurture Scotland’s future school leaders.
 
Ewan McIntosh, of Channel 4, suggested that identification of developing leaders, mentoring and close personal support were the best strategies to develop a new generation of school leaders.  He also quoted George Church, that “in a changing world, inaction can be the radical action”.  Raymond O’Hare of Microsoft argued that the two urgent requirements were leadership and motivation and urged practicing leaders to identify and focus on essential core improvements and to concentrate on the practical daily relationships with colleagues and learners.
 
Jim Spillane, Chair in Learning and Organisational Change at Northwestern University, Illinois, argued that good practice always requires to be tailored to the particular situation.  While arguing strongly for distributed leadership, he also stressed that leadership and management are not opposites but are closely related functions.
 
A group of school leaders from York Region in Ontario outlined long-term sustained improvement in literacy.  Their collaborative approach was based on the assumption that the expertise was in the schools and only required to be developed and supported and on the pragmatic search within and across schools for good practice and its subsequent dissemination.  Their perspective was not geared to the particular, but insisted that all regionally-funded innovation programmes were based school innovation being replicable across all schools.
 
Steve Munby, Chief Executive of the National College for School Leadership in England, insisted that collaboration was the best way to overcome variation across the school system.  He described the alignment of “failing” schools with Support Schools (schools with strong leadership, high attainment and an outward looking tradition) and the resulting improvements, not only in the “failing” schools but in the Support Schools.
 
Munby also drew attention to the demographic crisis in school leadership as an aging cohort of Heads move to retiral.  He suggested that context matters and that succession planning requires local solutions and collaboration.
 
Jim Conroy, Dean of Education at Glasgow University, asserted that teachers require a clear understanding of what they do and why they do it.  Loving children, he suggested, was an insufficient reason to enter teaching.  Loving learning and exciting children to be interested in that was the purpose of education.  We require to understand the post-modern world and its negative impact on young people and young teachers.  The slide into educational populism has reshaped the teaching profession, with confusion over control and authority creating a  world in which young people are subjected to a loss of their childhood.  He suggested that we get technically more and more competent at teaching more and more rubbish.  We require to return continually to purpose.  Conroy also however endorsed Curriculum for Excellence as a unique opportunity, to be grabbed with both hands, for teachers to take learning and teaching back under their own control.
 
A remarkable unanimity on the potential of Curriculum for Excellence but substantial differences on the importance of context and on the appropriate educational reaction to ever-increasing social change characterised another hugely successful summer school.


The above article was first published in SecEd on 17 September 2010: http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/cgi-bin/go.pl/article/article.html?uid=44355;type_uid=2;section=Features

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