A major new report could herald a new era in the leadership of schools, paving the way for the first headteachers to be appointed from finance, not teaching backgrounds

The impetus for the Independent Study into School Leadership came in November 2005 when the School Teachers’ Review Body recommended an independent study to examine the roles, responsibilities, structures and reward systems for school leaders in England and Wales.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (a major international accounting and recruiting firm) was commissioned to undertake the study in April 2006. Its principal aim was to provide a comprehensive and independent account of existing, emerging and potential models of school headship and the wider leadership team that are effective in raising standards for all students.

How the study was carried out

To gather information on which to base its conclusions a project management group gathered qualitative and quantitative data in five broad areas:

  • A literature review on education leadership and leadership in general, both nationally and internationally.
  • Interviews in 50 schools with school with school leaders, staff, governors and parents.
  • An extensive consultation exercise with key stakeholders, including interviews, meetings and written submissions.
  • Ten focus groups of teachers and school support staff.
  • A postal and online survey of school staff and governors which involved over 3,200 participants.

The key findings The report drew a number of conclusions about the generally good quality of leadership in our schools, which can be browsed in the full document. Mention is also made of the positive steps forward represented by the National College for School Leadership and the National Professional Qualification for Headship. In this article we focus on the key findings of relevance to bursars and business managers, especially those who are considering progressing into more senior leadership roles at their schools.

The report takes on a negative tone as it draws attention to the fifth of school leaders whose leadership has been deemed ‘unsatisfactory’ by Ofsted, and also highlights an apparent drop in the standards of leadership signalled by the latest Ofsted Annual Report (November 2006). Crucially, it acknowledges that social and political changes mean that what school leaders are expected to do now and in the future is significantly different from what was expected of them in the past – even a few years ago. It goes on to make the following specific observations about leadership in our schools:

  • There is evidence that many school leaders are struggling to meet all the demands currently being placed upon them, especially in relation to strategic issues, people development and extended schools.
  • Successful school leaders exhibit behaviours and attributes which are effective irrespective of the organisational model or structure within which they are operating.
  • Vitally, the quality of school leadership has been established as the second most important influence on student learning, after classroom teaching.
  • School leadership has greater influence on schools and students when it is widely distributed (ie shared among staff). Those working in schools and other stakeholders are united by their belief in the importance of distributed forms of leadership.

The latter conclusion will strike a chord with many support staff who are already making a significant difference to school improvement through their work at a strategic and operational level in their schools. This is true whether or not they are ‘officially’ a member of the school leadership team. The report presents some interesting information relating to the management of finances in schools. Heads have gone on record to state that they wish to spend less time managing finances, even though in primary schools they are often engaged very heavily in finance matters on a day-to-day basis. Many heads also feel that finance is a prime example of an aspect of their work which is suitable for delegation. It seems, therefore, that finance is recognised as a key focus of the current and future work of the school to distribute leadership.

Various models of leadership

Five models of school leadership were identified in the report and confirmed by key stakeholders as broadly representing the real life work of schools:

Traditional model – a leadership team comprised exclusively of qualified teaching staff, typically including a headteacher supported by a deputy and/or assistant heads. This is most common in the primary sector. Evidence suggests that the current policy environment is placing significant stress on the sustainability of this model and that schools may need to begin to move away from it in order to ensure that student standards and welfare are protected.

Managed model – a flatter management-style structure in which specific roles are allocated on the senior leadership team for senior support staff, for example, business managers. A number of schools have found that this model has enabled them to allocate key roles and responsibilities more effectively.

Multi-agency model – a natural progression from the managed model, with a flatter, management-style structure, but more outward-looking and focused on other agencies. This model remains the exception rather than the rule, but the reports suggests it may become more common in the future as schools respond to the Every Child Matters and 14-19 agendas. Evidence suggests that, in some contexts, there are clear benefits associated with schools formally adopting this kind of a multi-agency model. For example by having health professionals taking on leadership

roles within schools.

Federated model – involving varyingdegrees of collaboration between schools and sometimes between schools and other providers, for example ‘whole town’ approaches to schooling. A key benefit of this approach is the ability to harness economies of scale.

System leadership model – this model embraces all the different roles that heads can assume beyond the boundaries of their own school, ie those that contribute to the wider educational system at a local, regional or national level.

Though there are clearly positive and negative aspects associated with each of the above models, the report concludes that a one-size-fits-all model is not appropriate – instead schools should be made aware of the different models that are possible and invited to consider the relative merits of these in their local circumstances.

Recommendations

The report does not shy away from a range of specific recommendations which, in its words, ‘have the potential to transform the face of school leadership in England and Wales and ensure that leaders are equipped to embrace and deliver for the future.’ They can be grouped under 14 headings: Diversify leadership models – we should proactively promote new and emerging leadership models, develop a national programme to support schools seeking to move towards new models and remove the key legal and regulatory barriers to the development of new models. This recommendation is of particular interest to school bursars/business managers who wish to progress into leadership roles. Distribute responsibility with accountability – we should review policy and practice in relation to accountability in order to facilitate greater distributed leadership. Review governance – we should consider further the interaction between leadership and governance. Streamlining policy – we must review the mechanisms currently in place for limiting the bureaucratic burden on schools, conduct a regular mapping exercise of existing and future regulations and provide greater clarity around which aspects of policies and requirements on schools are mandatory and which are optional and/or advisory. Develop people, diversity and succession – we should promote suitably qualified professionals from outside the schools sector taking on school leadership roles. A crucial recommendation given the changing climate of responsibility for school bursars and business managers. Adopt a new approach towards leadership qualifications and programmes – we must reform NPQH and Head for the Future, focusing on a range of aspects including sharing modules with professionals from other sectors and wider accreditation of prior learning. Mainstream innovative, experience based continuing professional development (CPD) activities – we should build leadership capacity in the sector by promoting and mainstreaming a series of innovative, experience-based CPD activities including secondments into business or the public sector and cross-sectoral mentoring programmes. Develop system-wide e-learning – we should do this in order to address some of the key training needs identified in this study, and as part of a wider ‘blended’ solutions approach to learning. Ensure that the existing reward system works better – this refers to modifying the existing system, not changing it radically. Th report concludes that any of the new models of school leadership could be accommodated within the existing broad framework. Reward new roles and individual performance – we should modify the existing reward system in a number of areas, including examining salary ranges for executive heads and chief executives, reviewing the ways in which non-QTS senior support staff are rewarded in order to promote effective recruitment and retention, and providing further guidance and training to headteachers, governors and local authorities on how to reward leaders most effectively. Maintain the integrity of the reward system – we must review a number of aspects of the existing system including pay differentials between heads, deputies and assistants. Enhance the role of parents and learners – we should provide support to school leaders in the use of low burden ways to seek and respond to the voice of the users of their services, in particular, learners and parents. Winning hearts and minds – we should develop a communications campaign in order to challenge the conventional wisdom (eg around ‘hero heads’), explain the benefits of new leadership models, and enlist new entrants into the talent pool from diverse backgrounds. Measuring and managing the change – we should ensure the national steering arrangements for school leadership reform are based on up-to-date, insightful management information.

Concluding remarks

While it remains to be seen how many of the PricewaterhouseCoopers recommendations are taken on board by the government – and actively supported through specific actions – it seems clear that the die has been cast for a new future of school leadership in England and Wales. That future looks like being typified by more distributed leadership, responding to wider educational, social and health needs, with increasing recognition given to the roles of leaders who do not have a teaching background.

School Financial Management columnist Ruth Bradbury wrote passionately in a recent issue about her desire to become the first state head in the UK who has not come from a teaching background and the findings of the report look set to provide the platform upon which this kind of radical reform is now possible. A key issue, therefore, for business managers and bursars in our schools, is to decide just how far they want to progress into leadership, as there are clearly exciting opportunities ahead.

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