Skip to main content

A very personal first reaction to Denis Mongon and Charles Leadbetter’s School Leadership for Public Value (Institute of Education, £23.99), was relief that I work in education in Scotland and not England.
They describe the drive in England, over the last two decades, towards increasing central control of the curriculum and assessment and increasing competition among schools. Under Gove, that application of the market paradigm has accelerated.
The effective privatisation of large elements of the English school system is the target.
It is therefore briefly reassuring to work in Scotland where successive governments have maintained a commitment to comprehensive, public sector schooling.
Mongon and Leadbetter also make the frequently reiterated point that the less divided a society, the more effective are its schools. In Finland, despite formal schooling not starting until age seven and a shorter school year, attainment, among other outcomes, is significantly higher than in England or Scotland. Despite the almost non-existence of private schools, Finland’s state schools are held in high regard. Teaching is a high status profession, well-paid, and with clear expectations of its entrants to move to postgraduate qualifications.
Nonetheless, Mongon and Leadbetter’s pleas for reform (in part to challenge the competitive paradigm) apply in Scotland as much as England.
Two telling sentences explain why. “There is a danger that if schools teach children to pass tests and exams they will not impart the social and entrepreneurial skills that the children will need to prosper. Schools might be hitting the target but missing the point.” They return for inspiration to Henry Morris and the Cambridgeshire Community Colleges. Their alternative scenario is of schools developing a sustained, systemic relationship between the school and its community.
Focusing on several innovative schools, they have sought to identify the characteristics which allowed these schools to add value to their provision. Schools’ core purpose remains effective learning by all pupils but they argue that that occurs when the school, parents and learners are all actively engaged, when the community and the school are not culturally separate and when a broader ownership of the purposes of school pertains.
At one level, this work is as much about leadership styles as about community rootedness and the open, flexible but focused approach in these schools and which they advocate is indeed admirable.
21st-century community schools, however, require a fresh analysis.
Community high schools were also developed in Scotland, especially in Lothian Region, in the 1970s.
They were part of a policy of redistributing resources to, and encouraging positive social and community developments in, areas of multiple deprivation.
However, that vision has withered. Several have been closed as cuts have bitten into council budgets. Others operate within areas of decreasing population, have suffered disproportionately the effects of parental choice and have ever increasing market rules attached to their adult education and recreational usage.
The Scottish Government’s 1998 New Community Schools initiative is now largely forgotten and, without belittling individual outcomes, its long-term impacts on the system as a whole were minimal.
Mongon and Leadbetter should prompt Scottish educationalists to revisit how schools and their communities might work as genuine partners, how education can play a part in social regeneration and community development and how community engagement can boost educational outcomes. That requires a wider vision than has been the norm to date. Integrated service delivery and management challenge deeply-conservative professional instincts.
Genuine community schools are also inconsistent with parental choice, the epitome of the market paradigm in education, since escaping the local community is its very purpose. If we want the Finnish model and Finnish successes, these are the challenging issues for discussion. Who dares discuss?

The above article was first published in Holyrood Magazine on 22 october 2012:

Leave a Reply