Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Around the UK: Scotland

A major report into recruitment and retention in Scotland concludes, among other things, that the notion of 'heroic' headship is outdated, says Ken Cunningham.

Why are so few teachers interested in pursuing senior positions in Scottish schools? The Recruitment and Retention of Headteachers in Scotland, a major government-commissioned report recently published provides some answers. The findings are directed at policy makers at all levels and they clearly echo ASCL's own conclusions over the years.

Chapter 10 highlights a range of issues that emerged from the quantitative and qualitative evidence. They fall into six groupings: leadership expectations, headteacher autonomy, role support, impact of inspections on heads' confidence and motivation, recruitment disincentives, and promotion of headship. I suspect all of these ring bells with our ASCL colleagues!

Among these was a challenge to some of the more charismatic notions of headteachers. To quote: "A strong theme implicit in the findings is the redundancy of 'heroic' understandings of headship: that is, the folly of one person trying to tackle not just every leadership challenge but also a plethora of ad hoc tasks. There is evidence to suggest that successful and confident heads are ones who develop management teams or place themselves at the core of a team of leaders." This is one of many examples that confirm much of what we have been saying.

There were recommendations for local authorities, policy makers and existing headteachers. We are very comfortable with these as they highlight policy and practice of School Leaders Scotland. The main difficulty in these straitened times is how to financially support these initiatives through, for example, mentoring and leadership of CPD.

The report is one of two to be published by the government after a lengthy gestation period. The other, also highly significant, was an updating of the triennial research programme, Behaviour in Scottish Schools 2009. This on-going work is probably unique internationally and would be well worth replicating elsewhere in the UK. It has produced masses of information which will continue to feed into the system over the next few years.

On the positive side there have been clear indications of progress and greater articulation of views from teachers and senior management in both primary and secondary.

An excerpt from the 2009 report states: "Overwhelmingly teachers, headteachers in both primary and secondary schools and support staff in primary schools in 2009 continue to see pupils to be generally well behaved around the school and in the classroom.

"Secondary school support staff are less emphatic than other staff about positive behaviour in classrooms. This was also a finding in 2006. In general, staff in primary schools tend to be more positive than staff in secondary schools in both 2009 and 2006.

"The type of negative behaviour encountered most frequently around the school in 2006 and 2009 was running in corridors. Talking out of turn continues to be the most frequently encountered low-level behaviour in classrooms by all groups of staff.

"Serious indiscipline around the school and in classrooms towards staff remains rare, but, of course, is significant for those involved. The very rare incidents of physical violence towards staff that were reported around the school and in the classroom occurred more frequently in primary than in secondary schools. This was also the case in 2006." There was much complimentary mention of the increasing range of strategies in use and their success or otherwise.

In what is a media-sensitive topic, it is encouraging to see the government continuing to support schools in this partnership research. While the numbers involved are relatively limited they nevertheless do give insightful and fairly convincing data on real progress. We still await further guidance on exclusion practice and have made the case that heads and their teams should still have the right to manage some incidents in that way.

And to sign off, we look forward to working with our new education cabinet secretary, Mike Russell, to help deliver a very challenging agenda. He replaces Fiona Hyslop who was herself very supportive of regular meetings to discuss key issues. We wish her well in her new post.

Ken Cunningham is general secretary of School Leaders Scotland.

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