Actualizado el 11 de Octubre de 2007

Leadership, Ethos and Participation in Schools

The role of the school leader in England has changed significantly in the last 20 years. Many of the functions undertaken by the Local Authorities (LA's) are now the direct responsibility of the school. Schools receive a budget and they decide how it is spent . The Governing Body (GB) of the school has responsibility for setting the budget and the Headteacher (HT) for managing it.

Jean Lebrecht

1 Leadership

The role of the school leader in England has changed significantly in the last 20 years. Many of the functions undertaken by the Local Authorities (LA's) are now the direct responsibility of the school. Schools receive a budget and they decide how it is spent . The Governing Body (GB) of the school has responsibility for setting the budget and the Headteacher (HT) for managing it. The HT is likely to have played a key role in drafting the budget and is often a member of the GB so has considerable influence in deciding how the money is spent. The partnership between the HT and the GB is a critical one for the school. In practice the HT has major day-to-day and strategic responsibilities and is seen as a key factor in the success or otherwise of the school.

The HT's core responsibility is to provide professional leadership and management for a school. This will promote a secure foundation from which to achieve high standards in all areas of the school's work.

Achieving high standards is of the greatest importance to the schools and the country as a whole. The level of autonomy of the HT in English schools is high compared to that in many other countries. There are also high levels of accountability.

1.1 Distributed leadership

The HT is supported by a Senior Leadership Team (SLT) which has delegated authority for areas of the school's work. For example a deputy headteacher may be responsible for the school's curriculum. There may be members of the SLT who are not teachers but have responsibility for other aspects of the school's life e.g. finance or premises.

Middle leaders have responsibility for a subject area e.g. mathematics. They lead their team of teachers often taking part in their appointment, manage their part of the school's budget e.g. for purchasing books, software and materials and plan the curriculum in their area. They are accountable for the quality of learning and teaching and for examination outcomes.

All teachers are expected to model leadership qualities in their classrooms and to encourage and develop leadership skills in students.

1.2 Frameworks and accountabilities

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) is the central government office with responsibility for schools. The DCSF provides extensive frameworks which support the work of schools and within which schools are expected to operate. These include a National Curriculum, and Assessment Framework and 5 'Every Child Matters' outcomes:

  • Keeping children safe from bullying, harassment and discrimination.
  • Encouraging children to develop healthy and active lifestyles.
  • Ensuring each pupil progresses as well as they possibly can.
  • Ensuring that pupils attend school regularly, giving them a strong voice in the life of the school and encouraging them to volunteer to help others.
  • Helping all to value education and to appreciate that it is the key to success in later life.

Many others cover inspection, employment issues, management of resources, governance etc.

Schools are accountable for examination outcomes to students, parents, governors, the local community, the LA and the DCSF. Results are published on the Internet and in the newspapers. Inspection reports are also published on the Internet. School leaders enjoy their responsibilities and the opportunities they have for shaping their schools but their very visible and public accountabilities can be a source of stress.

Although schools are now freer from the LA there is now a much greater level of direction from the national government than in the past.

1.3 Drivers for change

The changes we have seen over the last 20 years result from ideas which began in the 1970s. Before that, teaching was in the hands of the teachers and the curriculum was largely determined by the examination syllabi. Schools and teachers had more freedom to determine what they taught. Until 1988, Religious Education was the only compulsory subject.

In 1976 the then Prime Minister James Callaghan started 'The Great Debate' on the education system arguing that:

In today's world, higher standards are demanded than were required yesterday and there are simply fewer jobs for those without skill. Therefore we demand more from our schools than did our grandparents.

Since then education has been an important focus for governments and the extensive changes have been made possible by the support the public, particularly parents, has had for them.

1.4 Leadership Development

Changes to the role of school leaders led to a recognition of their importance in schools achieving high standards. A recent report for government notes that:

School leaders in England and Wales have a lot of which to be proud. Existing survey work
shows that, when compared to other professions, people in wider society think that
headteachers provide particularly good examples of leadership. They have led the
implementation of a series of major national initiatives in the last three years, during which
time, levels of pupil performance have continued to improve and are currently at an all time
high; and furthermore seeing children achieve, according to our research, is the single most
important aspect of the job that gives school leaders greatest satisfaction.

Recognition in the 1990's that school leaders needed training led to the establishment of the National Professional Qualification for Headteachers (NPQH) which is now a compulsory qualification for all headteachers in England. The training is based on the National Standards for Headteachers. The six areas covered are:

1 Shaping the Future 4 Managing the Organisation
2 Leading Learning and Teaching 5 Securing Accountability
3 Developing Self and Working with Others 6 Strengthening Community

In 2000 the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) was established with a remit to develop school leadership. It now has responsibility for the NPQH. Another aspect of their work is research and in 2006 they described 'Seven strong claims about effective school leadership'.

Effective school leadership - overview of findings from research evidence

  • School leadership is second only to classroom teaching as an influence on pupil learning;
  • Almost all successful leaders draw on the same basic repertoire of leadership practices (the main elements are: building vision, developing people, redesigning the organisation, managing teaching and learning);
  • The ways in which leaders apply these basic leadership practices, not the practices themselves, demonstrate responsiveness to the contexts in which they work;
  • School leaders improve teaching and learning indirectly through their influence on staff motivation, commitment and working conditions;
  • School leadership has a greater influence on schools and students when it is widely distributed;
  • Some patterns of distribution are more effective than others; and
  • A small handful of personal traits explain a high proportion of the variation in leadership effectiveness.

Source: Seven strong claims about effective school leadership, Leithwood et al., National College for School Leadership, 2006.

The development of other school leaders including senior, middle leaders, school business managers and students, is also undertaken by the NCSL.

As a result of the training, new headteachers now have a much better understanding of their role and are more prepared to take on its challenges.

2. Ethos - vision, values, aims

Each school is different and has its own ethos. The school's situation, its history its community, its context all makes up that ethos. The headteacher plays a key role in leading the shaping and development of that ethos and the vision and values the school embraces. The continuing rapidly changing context in which the school operates requires the school to be clear about its own ethos, vision and values and the direction in which it is going. A crucial feature of the role of the headteacher is to articulate their vision for the school and to carry the school with them in implementing the vision. This develops and may change the ethos of the school. Where schools are not successful for their students a radical change of ethos may be needed.

'Shaping the Future' is the first of the English Headteacher Standards.

'Critical to the role of headship is working with the governing body and others to create a shared vision and strategic plan which inspires and motivates pupils, staff and other members of the school community. This vision should express core educational values and moral purpose and be inclusive of stakeholders' values and beliefs. The strategic planning process is critical to sustaining school improvement and ensuring that the school moves forward for the benefit of its pupils.'

The head does not do this alone but plays a vital leadership role in taking the discussion forward with all the school stakeholders - staff, students, parents, governors etc. Schools often express their vision and ethos in an 'aims' statement. The best aims statements are known by all the stakeholders and support the work of the school and help it grow.

2.1 Aims statements: Coteford Junior School's aims statement is known by all the children in the school and they use it in their daily lives:

'This is our school. Each one of us is special. Every day is important. High achievement is our goal.'

'Our school' - not the teacher's school or the local authority's or the pupils - it belongs to all of us

'Each one of us is special' - students use this to value each other and help each other especially when there is conflict

'Every day is important' - students, their parents and teachers realise how important it is to come to school every day, to have good lessons and to work hard

'High achievement is our goal' - all the students know that they have to work hard to achieve the best they can

Coteford's aims capture the vision for the school simply and in remembering the aims on a daily basis everyone in the school lives the vision.

Clear vision and values aid distributed leadership and decision making within the school. If everyone knows the values of the school and the direction in which it is heading decisions can be made within that context and this enables leadership to be distributed. If 'each one of us is special' the deputy head with responsibility for curriculum has to remember this when she is writing the timetable and make sure she is as fair as possible in allocating teachers to classes or classes to rooms. When the finance officer is working on the budget he has to remember that 'our school' and its resources belong to everyone and have to be used in an equitable way. When the teacher is preparing her lesson she has to make sure it is done well because 'every day is important'. When the child would rather play football than do his homework he remembers that 'high achievement is our goal' and does his homework first.

Clear vision and values also help with the management of change. The school leadership report notes that:

We know from other sectors that change, diversity and complexity are inevitable features of the current and future environment and that leaders need to accept and embrace this.

Ideas and directives, new challenges and threats are a constant feature of school life coming sometimes from within and sometimes without - e.g. governments, exam boards, the local community or events. Solid values and vision help the leaders and the school to interpret the situation and make changes their own rather than allowing the institution to be knocked sideways as it struggles to adapt to an ever moving agenda.

3. Participation

Distributed leadership and participation go hand-in-hand. Typically a school will provide opportunities for all involved to be able to participate in decision making. This will be more developed in some schools than in others but in 21st century England the authoritarian headteacher who makes all the decisions is rare.

The National Standards talk about 'headteachers working with and through others'.

3.1 Consultation structures: A large secondary school would have a structure of meetings which would enable participation in the generation and discussion of ideas by all members of the school. These would include regular meetings throughout the school year by staff, students, parents and governors. Appendix 1 describes the structure in the school I most recently led.

Staff meetings would include meetings of the whole staff and groups of staff e.g. department groups, groups focused on specific issues e.g. Special Educational Needs, ICT, Assessment, Equal Opportunities. The Leadership Team is likely to meet at least weekly as well as having weekend conferences to evaluate their work and plan strategic developments.

Schools in England are not usually democratic. There is a clear leadership role and the headteacher is expected to take the lead but in an informed and professional way. Most school level changes would go through a consultation process which explains any proposed changes and seeks views on the changes and how they could best be implemented. Change is often generated by the school leaders or from outside the school but can also be proposed by groups within the school through the consultation structure.

Decisions at department level are taken by the department led by the head of department. They would need to take school systems and the vision and values into account but would be able to take many decisions without reference to the leadership team or headteacher. The same would be true for tutor teams who have responsibility for the guidance and welfare of students.

Student voice: - Listening to and engaging with students is a key government priority. Most schools have a student council and many will also have opportunities for discussion in tutor and year groups. Students would be consulted about changes in the school in a similar way to staff. In some schools there is a student leadership team which mirrors the senior leadership team and has regular discussions with them. Student councils often have a budget for which they are responsible and accountable to the student body and the school. Students are encouraged to take leadership roles in schools: it is not unusual for them to be involved in the appointment of staff. Older students supporting younger ones, peer mentoring, prefect systems are widespread. Schools may particularly consult students on aspects of life they understand better than their elders such as ICT.

Parents and carers: are represented on the Governing Body and are invited to attend regular Parent/Staff meetings to discuss general matters about the school. These are different to meetings between parents and teachers which are focused on their child's work in school. Parents often also contribute to focus groups. Some schools have joint groups of all stakeholders to discuss aspects of the school's work.

Governors: Governors meet regular as a Governing Body and also have committees which focus on specific aspects of the school e.g. finance, curriculum. They are responsible for the strategic direction and achievement of the school and expected to act as a critical friend to the headteacher. They are also involved in the performance management of the headteacher.

3.2 Self-evaluation requires each school to quality assure its work. In order to build evidence on how it is doing, it has to systematically ask the opinions of stakeholders. Therefore students, parents and staff are regularly invited to comment on aspects of the school's work. In seeking these views and responding to them, schools are more sensitive to the views of their users than they were in the past. When inspectors visit the school they too will ask for the opinions of students, staff and parents.

3.3 Open government Participation and transparency are a feature of the wider society in England facilitated by computers and the Internet. These permit greater public access to information and higher expectations of public institutions and professionals. This is the context in which we work and it is to be hoped that by engaging effectively with the people we serve, we improve the education we offer and ensure that we help students achieve their aspirations and prepare them to play a full and constructive role in an ever changing world.

Jean Lebrecht
August, 2007

Leadership, Ethos and Participation in Schools, al tablero, octubre