Sometimes when searching the web for something another link is thrown up. Today, I rediscovered this piece I wrote for the Education Select Committee way back in 1998, nearly a quarter of a century ago.
I have only included just the first part here, but the whole piece can be read at House of Commons – Education and Employment – Report (parliament.uk) and reveals how useful a good archive policy is for future historians. Worth noting that even in 1998 I was already using the term Chair not Chairman.
Memorandum from Mr John Howson, Education Data Surveys Ltd
THE ROLE OF HEADTEACHERS
LEADERS MUST BE ABLE TO MANAGE, BUT NOT ALL MANAGERS ARE LEADERS
1. The intention of the House of Commons Select Committee on Education and Employment to consider the role of headteachers is welcomed.
The impact of headteachers on their schools
2. There is no doubting the important role that a headteacher plays in the life of a school. As the leading professional, the headteacher has a strategic role to play in the success of the school. Just as successful companies, hospitals, regiments and governments function more effectively with strong leadership, so the same is true of schools.
2.1 Academic studies both here and elsewhere suggest that successful leadership is a combination of situational and personal leadership skills. That is matching the abilities of the individual to the task in hand. One issue with heads is that, as they are generally appointed for an indefinite period, a change in the situation a school faces may require a change in the skill mix needed. This may result in the current head of the school under performing. This problem can also be observed in the corporate sector. Fixed term renewable contracts would offer a solution to this problem but would come with a price tag attached. The loss of tenure would require additional rewards for the additional risks to be accepted.
2.2 In the early work of the National Education Assessment Centre, a joint venture between Oxford Brookes University and the Secondary Heads Association, it became clear that successful heads need a clear set of educational values. The values should underpin their work and heads must also recognise how to put their values in to practice. For instance, timetabling is not a mechanical “value free” activity. The classes a newly qualified teacher is asked to teach may determine how long they stay in the profession.
The nature of the head’s task
3.1 There is a popular belief that any competent manager could run a school just as they could any other business. This view muddles up the requirement for professional knowledge with the need for operational support and strategic direction. It is particularly important to understand this issues as the nature of the head’s role has changed during the past decade. It has been transformed from that of just a leading professional to a multi-functional role encompassing the management of education service delivery within a highly fragmented marketplace.
3.2 Whilst schools are about learning it is right that they should be led by a chief executive with an understanding of the practice of education and a vision to promote the development of the school. It is also right that the head should be expected to justify the direction the school is taking and account for its improvement to non-educationalists. The governing body and particularly its chair serve as the first point in the chain of accountability. In that sense the often discussed comparison between the head as a managing director and the chair of governors as a non-executive Chair of the Board has some merit as an exemplar. In the most recent edition of “Management Today”, the journal of the British Institute of Management, an editorial headed “Yes, the public sector does manage” suggests that “it was time conventional businesses looked again at the abilities of those managers whose skills have been forged in the glare of the public sector”.
3.3 There are, however, unfortunate side effects of carrying any industrial metaphor too far. Western management theory for too long was based upon scientific principles that resulted in hierarchical structures. These may have been appropriate for a factory environment but were not suitable to professional organisations where rigid structures make team working difficult. The introduction of newer management theories during the 1980s and 1990s has resulted in a fresh look at organisational theory. Teamwork is acceptable with the leading professional being seen as “primus inter pares” with their colleagues rather than at the top of a pyramid. The term “Senior Management team” is now common in the educational leadership literature and normal in adverts for senior staff posts. This approach is not without its risks since it does not remove the need for a leadership function; it just changes the manner in which it operates.
3.4 The STRB workload survey in 1996 reported on the extent to which heads are able to teach. Conventional wisdom is that the larger the school the less a head will be able to teach. Overall the Study (Table A2) showed primary school headteachers either teaching or undertaking associated tasks such as marking and lesson preparation for an average of 10.6 hours a week. Secondary heads spent on average 6.8 hours a week on such tasks. As a percentage of their working weeks this represented 18.9 per cent of the primary school head’s weeks and 11.1 per cent of the secondary head’s week. However, both heads had longer working weeks than did most other teachers. Primary heads worked on average 55.7 hours a week and secondary heads 61.7 hours. These totals compared with primary classroom teachers who worked 50.8 hours and secondary classroom teachers who worked 48.8 hours. When compared with a similar 1994 study also conducted by the STRB both primary and secondary heads seemed to be working longer hours; up from 55.4 to 55.7 for primary heads and up from 61.1 to 61.7 for secondary heads.
3.5 The nature of the task of headship must be set against the context that schools operate in. For much of the past thirty years schools have been faced with a period of constant change. During most of the past decade a declining resource base has accompanied this change. DfEE statistics show the average unit of funding per full-time secondary pupil fell from £2,400 in 1990-91 to £2,290 in 1995-96 based on adjusted figures (DfEE Education and Training Statistics for the UK 1997—Table 1.3). In the same period funding per full-time primary pupil rose slightly from £1,590 to £1,690.