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No tolerance of second rate

By 4 May 2012No Comments

The focus of the Scottish Executive’s drive towards excellence in education remains the sharing and development of good practice but the Leadership Conference of SELMAS (Scottish Educationa Leadership, Management and Administration Society) in Glasgow on 8th September heard a clear warning from both the Inspectorate and the Minister, that mediocrity and second-class performance would be rooted out.
In the glorious setting of Hampden Park’s conference suite, the day was kicked off by Judith McClure, Convener of SELMAS, suggesting that while 20 years ago the football manager, encouraging the team, was perceived as a model of leadership for headteachers, the present model might best be represented as the micro-biotic yoghurt, stirring the system towards health and vitality.
Irrespective of the model to be applied, Graham Donaldson, Senior Chief Inspector of Education, emphasised the HMIs’ continuing view of the critical role of leadership.  He emphasised however that the purpose of leadership was not change but that the purpose of change targeted improvement and that the job of leaders was to keep that improvement goal firmly in mind.
He quoted Lisa Marshall’s Speak the Truth and Point to Hope, saying that we need to develop “a leaderly way of being” and went to suggest that this included certain key characteristics, understanding people, resilience, bravery, making connections, being demanding and painstaking and being hungry to learn.
He also stressed that while Scotland’s schools had many excellent aspects and remained the envy of many nations, there was an unacceptable and recurring 15% of so schools where leadership was poor.
Mr Donaldson stressed the multiple expectations on educational leaders and the fact that education was a human process with a human product.  Personal integrity, he suggested, was central therefore to the characteristics of successful school leaders.  Risk and innovation were also however areas which the excellent leader was keen to enter.  The purpose of risk however was innovation, not novelty, but innovation could also be about sharing and reshaping best practice.
Scottish education minister, Peter Peacock, followed.  Delegates were reminded that Scotland’s place in an ever-more complex world depended on a knowledge-based economy.  Again the statement was clear.  Where school performance is poor and leadership is not effecting change, hard decisions require to be taken by the local authority which would lead to weak leaders “moving to other professions”.
He repeated, lest anyone was in doubt, that “You can expect me to be increasingly intolerant of second best”.  To support new leaders an alternative model of the Scottish Qualification for Headship will shortly be piloted.  A Leadership Board, including SELMAS’s redoubtable Judith McClure, will shortly be appointed to advise the Minister on the development of a leadership culture in Scottish schools.  It was also a priority, especially given the demographic pattern of Scottish teachers, to start today identifying the leaders of tomorrow and to support and develop their careers and ambitions.
Margaret Alcorn, national CPD convener for the Convention of Scottish local Authorities, reported on the recent international Harvard experience, which brought together educational leaders from various countries.  Again, it was clear from the international comparisons, that Scotland had major strengths, particularly its induction programme for newly qualified teachers and its culture of professional development.  The leadership debate is also an international one.  The key purpose of school leadership, it was suggested, is to change and improve what happens in the classroom.  All else was window dressing and the best leaders concentrated on the impact of their policies on learning and teaching, not on the language or style of the policy paper.
Gordon MacKenzie, Rector of Balwearie High School, in Kirkcaldy, in a practical coaching session, stated that his leadership priority was the development of relationships and the visible presence of leadership.  Knowing staff and students and relating to them as individuals, and doing so visibly and often, was essential if staff, students and parents were to be convinced of a leader’s commitment to the school.
Mr Donaldson’s quoted Serengeti proverb summed up the mood as the conference closed and delegates considered how the intolerance of the second-rate would be manifested.  “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows that it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle, when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
The above article was first published in SecEd on 26 October 2006.

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