School Leadership Development in the EU


EPNoSL and the School Leadership Toolkits

The European Policy Network for School Leadership (EPNOSL) was established in 2010 and set out to bring together academics and policy makers from across the EU to produce tools and guidance to help member nations and their regions develop leadership for equity and learning. Last week saw the last of six Peer Learning Activities (PLA) and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance.

I had been given the opportunity of going along as EPNOSL were interested in the Scottish College for Educational Leadership (SCEL) and its Fellowship Programme for serving Headteachers. As a Fellow of SCEL I went along to offer my perspective on how the development of system leadership can impact upon school and teacher leadership.

The PLE consisted of a mixture of keynote addresses and workshops designed to interrogate the tools that had been created over the past 5 years; you can find them here. The tools can be used by Local Authorities, clusters and individual schools to examine how they currently develop and use leadership to enhance learning and equity and to plan future improvements in these areas.  There are toolkits for:

Educating School Leaders,

Teacher Leadership,

Distributed Leadership for Equity,

School Autonomy,

School Accountability,

Promoting Collaboration, and

Policy Response

Leadership in a Rapidly Changing World

The event opened with Prof. Dr. Michael Schratz from the School of Education at Innsbruck, Austria who set the scene and outlined some of the challenges to promoting school leadership for equity in a rapidly changing world.  In a continent beset by high levels of unemployment and even higher levels of youth unemployment, with nations defaulting on loans and wide spread austerity, equity and learning are more important than ever. There was, I felt a real symmetry between the messages Dr. Schratz were espousing and the key findings and recommendations from Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has warned that the most critical reform needed in education is the building of better links between education and employment and that career preparation cannot solely be the locus of careers advisors and guidance staff.  Dr Schratz cited a Gallup Survey from 150 Countries that found ‘having a good job’ was considered more important than peace, freedom, democracy, a family, belongings and even god for the majority of people, such is the importance placed on employment.  He also pointed out that the type of skills demanded by employers has changed over the past 50 years.  Routine manual and cognitive skills have fallen dramatically whilst the demand for non-routine analytical and non-routine interactive skills are now in great demand.  Identifying these skills and embedding them within curricula is the first task (and one that arguably has been achieved by many schools in Scotland), but the difficulty for policy makers, teachers and school leaders is that these high demand skills are the most difficult to test and the skills that are least in demand are often the ones that inform comparator league tables.  This is one of the reasons why we should not confuse test performance with school success.

The role of leadership at classroom, school and system level is complex, but one of the main tasks must be to deal with, and communicate the complexity of education and manage the conflicts and synergies between helping students gain qualifications and develop the skills required to thrive out in the world.  In the face of targets imposed by governments seduced by PISA ratings and measures of routine cognitive performance, perhaps the greatest assets leaders can have are courage, tenacity, intelligence and integrity.

In order to lead schools and systems that prepare pupils for the largely unknown future, it is important to learn, not only from the past but also from the emerging future with an open mind, an open heart and an open will.

School Leadership and Health

One of the common problems across education in Europe is the recruitment and retention of headteachers and many cite stress as either a reason for preventing application to headship posts or as a reason for leaving a headteacher post.  Stephan Huber of the University of Teacher Education at Zug, Switzerland reported on his findings from research carried out across the German-speaking nations.  His study looked at the tasks and stress indicators of 5394 school leaders across four countries.  He sought to explore possible links between the types of tasks carried out by Headteachers (such as administrative tasks, dealing with parents, leading professional development etc.) and stress indicators such as job satisfaction, emotional exhaustion and general and specific job strain.  His findings came as a surprise to me; I was expecting that there would be links between workload and stress, and perhaps between the types of tasks carried out and stress (e.g. administrative heavy Headteachers may suffer more stress).  However the data pointed toward no such links.  The conclusions found that those who report being highly stressed were doing the same types of tasks and the same amount of work as those who were reporting low levels of stress, and that those who were highly stressed found all tasks stressful.

This leads to a question: If stress resilience is the biggest factor in staying stress free as a school leader, in what ways do we, or can we, support school leaders and potential school leaders to become more stress resilient?

Who Leads and Who Follows?

The morning of day two had a particularly Scottish feel (despite one speaker’s Scouse Accent!) and began with Professor John MacBeath leading thoughts on leadership and followship. Professor MacBeath, who is Emeritus Professor at Cambridge but hails from north of the border, set out some provocative questions that led to a very lively debate including:

  • Are Leaders born not made?
  • Is leadership the most important variable in school effectiveness?
  • Is leadership an individual activity?
  • Do outstanding teachers also make outstanding leaders?
  • Do good leaders create the vision for their organisations?
  • Do women make better leaders than men?

I will not go into the answers that ensued during the debate other than to say, for each question my Scottish sounding answer would be ‘maybeze aye, maybeze naw’.

One unifying point from this section of the PLA was professor MacBeath’s use of models that demonstrated a fluid model of leadership where everybody within a team takes on the role of leader and follower by turns and that this is coordinated, rather than dictated by, a school leader.

System Leadership and Teacher Leadership

The Scottish connection continued when John Daffurn (Programme Leader, SCEL) and I discussed the role of SCEL and the Fellowship Programme.  John kicked this off by explaining what SCEL is and the journey it has come on since its inception last year.   Our presentation can be found here and touched upon the aims of the College, how it continues to bring about key recommendations from Teaching Scotland’s Future and how it is helping leadership development at all levels by supporting System Leadership, Headship preparation through the new Into Headship route, and developing middle and teacher leadership.  I then described my Fellowship Journey and the learning I undertook last year on Developing High Quality Teacher Leadership (see my previous post for more details on this).

One theme that repeated over the course of the PLA was the envy with which many other educators, academics and policy makers view education in Scotland.  This was noted during keynote addresses, panel discussions, workshops and plenaries as well as during feedback on our presentation.  There were two aspects of Scottish education that colleagues from across the Eurozone particularly coveted:

  • Schools’ autonomy, particularly in curriculum design, and
  • The way in which different agencies work collaborate (e.g. teaching unions, Scottish Government, Education Scotland, Local Councils, practitioners and academics)

I wasn’t so much surprised with what was said, having heard similar remarks from colleagues in England and Wales, but was struck by their frequency and earnest delivery.  I happen to agree that autonomy of curriculum design is vital in allowing teachers and school leaders to, as Michael Schratz put it ‘find the beauty at the edge of failure’ and marry the complex drivers of equipping young people with qualifications and the skills that are in high demand, as well as ensuring all are as healthy and happy as they can be.

However, it is not enough to give schools the mandate to innovate, they must also be given the resource and support to do so and to ensure that they do not tip over the edge of beauty and into failure.  To write new courses, develop the most effective delivery practices and ensure that all pupils are fulfilling their potential and exceeding expectations requires time.  It also requires practitioners who can and do engage with research and honestly critically reflect upon their practice.  There is a very real danger that, in the current climate of budget cuts we dodge complexity, seek improvement by driving people too hard, value only what is easy to measure and create climates of deficiency.

I also agree that different bodies in Scotland collaborate in ways that seem amazingly collegiate to the external perspective.  I genuinely believe that although each separate organisation with a locus in education has its own aims and agendas, there is a strong focus on the most important common aim we all share; the best outcomes for all children and young people in Scotland, for their good and the good of society.  This too is vital as we need not look too far to see national bodies in other countries that are entrenched and fuelled by animosity and mistrust to the point where deadlock and lethargy dog improvement.

However, maintaining and building upon this national sense of collegiate collaboration is on a knife edge because each body retains distinct objectives (as they should, or else there would be no need for separate organisations).  Such collaboration depends upon, at the very point of working, skilled interpersonal and interpersonal skills such as negotiation, reaching common consensus, putting aside ego and self-need for the common good and a balance of assertiveness and humility.  My growing concern is that those who legislate at the highest level, those who represent us at parliament, demonstrate such a poor example as they seek to continuously use ‘performance data’ to score points off one another because their goals of social improvement sometimes seem secondary to the goal of being re-elected. I should point out here that I am not accusing any one political party as there are, I am sure, good and bad examples in each but one only needs to watch a session from parliament to see some really bad behaviour.

Leadership and Equity in Scotland and Europe

In the ten days or so since I returned from Crete, I have been reflecting on where we are and where we need to go.  Equity is a hot issue in Scotland, and should permanently be so.  It is key to ‘closing the gap’ and reducing poverty and leadership is integral to designing national and school level policy and practices that ensure we have genuine equity.  We are well placed in Scotland as we currently have national level collaboration which is not (overly) dogged by deadlock and the lethargy of animosity and schools have the mandate to create experiences tailored to the needs and opportunities of their communities and pupils but there are some key things we must focus on:

  • We need to continue to learn with and from colleagues in other countries and systems;
  • Taking what works in one national context and blindly applying it in another does not work, however we can learn from the processes other countries go through in developing education.
  • As well as learning from the past, we need to learn from the emerging future;
  • We should be modestly proud but not hubristic about our current strengths – these can quite easily be lost or come to nought;
  • Equity is not equality.  Merely providing the same opportunities in schools for all pupils is not merely good enough;
  • One person cannot lead a school alone.  Headteachers need to be highly effective leaders of leaders and schools need to be communities of gestalt leadership;
  • If schools are to be autonomous, they need the resource to do this effectively;
  • If schools are to be more accountable, those we are accountable to need to understand the complexity of education and not be seduced by easy to measure proxy indicators;

There is still a lot of work ahead, though we have a good platform to launch from in Scotland but we are going to have to run just to stay still and staying still is not nearly good enough.