Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Set the record straight

stack of newspapers

Publication of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on school leadership led to some exaggerated and not entirely accurate headlines in January. Both ASCL's position and some of the report's recommendations need clarifying.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) report on school leadership does not propose that accountants and business people should be drafted in to run schools instead of headteachers, as would have been deduced from some of the press headlines on 18 January.

What the report does say is that bursars, business managers and other senior support staff have a great contribution to make to the leadership of schools and that some of these people, suitably experienced in schools and having achieved the NPQH, could come through to the top job.

Not least because of the many talented senior support staff who are ASCL members, this is what ASCL stated in its evidence to PWC and this is the line that the government has taken up too. ASCL unequivocally rejects the notion that accountants or business executives or football managers should be brought straight in to run schools.
All are agreed that, whoever is the head, the person in charge of teaching and learning - the core purpose of the school - must have qualified teacher status.

Transforming leadership

The PWC report asserts that its recommendations 'could transform the face of school leadership in England and Wales'. I would argue that leadership is already being transformed in many schools - the report sets out how the best of these innovations can be adopted elsewhere.

Much of the report reviews the mass of evidence received during the nine-month study. There are no banner headlines and no sense of the impending recruitment crunch. Rather, there is a wide-ranging critical analysis of the present position, a glance at leadership in other sectors and an extensive list of proposals for change, many of which reflect the recommendations in the ASCL evidence to PWC. 

This substantial influence on the recommendations reflects a lot of work by ASCL officers during the past nine months, offering insight and authenticity through Robert Hill's book, Leadership that lasts, which set out a large part of the PWC agenda, and through numerous meetings and briefing sessions.

Of course, not all of the recommendations meet with ASCL's approval and we will continue to lobby government on specific areas, such as increased pay differentials.

Letting go of admin

The report criticises some heads' reluctance to 'let go' and hence end up with too big a pile on their own desk, with too much time being spent on administrative tasks that could be delegated, especially in the light of workforce reform. Examples are quoted of heads emptying the dishwasher and unblocking the toilets. The report states that heads should spend more of their time on strategic vision, staffing issues, and liaising with schools and external organisations.

The PWC team challenges accusations, made by ASCL and others, about the extent of change faced by schools. Change, the report states, is a way of life for all parts of the public and private sectors and schools cannot be immune from this. While ASCL acknowledges this, the association's evidence, both before and during the PWC study, argues that the manner of change, as much as the extent, is the major problem.

The report does accept much of the ASCL case on overload and recognises the huge workload now faced by school leaders. It states that the DfES needs to streamline its policy making process and to be clearer about what schools have to do and what they might merely consider. 

The main recommendation of the report is that there is no single model of school leadership right for all situations. Executive headship, co-headship, federated leadership, multi-agency models and traditional hierarchical structures are all reviewed and their benefits and disadvantages listed. 

The report sometimes quotes separate statistics for primary and secondary schools, but too often goes on to discuss them as if the problems and solutions are the same. To me, it comes out very clearly that it is not sensible to devise the same system to serve both 20-pupil primaries and large secondary schools.

Delegated leadership

Management of resources, budgets, estates and human resources increasingly should be the operational responsibilities of staff such as business managers, a view reflected in the report. Delegating to others who have backgrounds and skill sets different to teachers and heads is increasingly important.

This is one of the many aspects of distributed leadership that the report promotes, not least through its recommendations that some of the legal framework should be changed so that accountability can also be distributed. This could mean bursars having full accountability for finance, as happens in other fields.

The report recognises, however, that distributed leadership does not happen fully at the stroke of a pen. Parents and staff, in particular, still tend to cling to the image of the 'hero head', perceived as the only person in the school who can deal with their problem. Cultural change of this sort takes time - but it is possible, as has been shown in many secondary schools.

One of the aspects of overload on heads and other school leaders is that they neglect their own professional development and the report states that 7 per cent of heads have undertaken no professional development in the last three years. (Have they not even attended the ASCL regional information conferences, often said to be the best professional development on the market?) The report's recommendations open up opportunities of more secondments for school leaders.

Disappointment on differentials

The report has a section on differentials between members of the leadership team, but its major disappointment is that, although differentials between classroom teachers and leaders are cited as an issue, this is not discussed and there are no recommendations.

Since the introduction of the upper pay spine, classroom teachers have been much better paid and the differential between UPS3, plus TLR1, and the pay of assistant heads is too small to reflect the wider responsibilities of members of the leadership team. 

Unless this differential is widened, ASCL believes, there will not be adequate incentive for people to take on the increased responsibility and the future supply of heads will be jeopardised. ASCL will continue to campaign on this.

The inter-relationship between leadership, governance and accountability, set out in the ASCL evidence, is examined in the report and a review is recommended of the role and composition of governing bodies. Shared governing bodies, slimline governance and rewards for governors are all discussed. With the new structure of governing bodies proposed for trust schools, a review would be timely.

The PWC report in many ways offers an illuminating view of the complexity and challenge of school leadership and it advances the case that ASCL has long promoted, that distributed leadership is the way in which schools are run most effectively. Some of its recommendations - those relating to pay and conditions - will be referred to the STRB and some will be developed by the National College for School Leadership, but there is much in the report for ASCL members to reflect on as they continually review their own practice.

The lack of prescription in the report offers great opportunity for school leaders to move forward its recommendations in their own institutions. School leadership will change as a result of this report, but it will be as much because of what we ourselves do as what the government prescribes. The future is in our hands.

Conclusions made in the report

  • No single model of school leadership fits all

  • The newer leadership models should be promoted by the DfES and NCSL

  • Legal barriers to innovative models should be removed

  • Heads' accountability should be simplified

  • Distributed leadership should be facilitated moving some legal obligations away from the head

  • Accountabilities of executive heads need to be clarified

  • No fundamental changes to the current reward system are required

  • The STRB should be asked to review pay differentials so that they properly reflect job weight

  • There is a case for merging the grades of deputy and assistant head

  • The reward structure should be reviewed to include pay for executive heads and others who assume wider responsibilities beyond their own school

  • The pay system for senior support staff should be reviewed, and there is a case for the STRB making recommendations on their salaries

  • Performance management for school leaders should be based on a 'balanced scorecard' approach

  • Leadership training should be extended to school leaders without QTS

  • Suitably experienced and qualified professionals without QTS should take on more leadership roles, up to and including lead responsibility for the institution

  • A head of teaching and learning should be designated if the overall head does not have QTS

  • There should be a pilot initiative involving the rotation of leaders at specified intervals around a cluster of schools

  • Greater diversity of gender and ethnicity in leadership teams should be promoted

  • NPQH and LPSH ('Head for the Future') should be reformed

  • School leaders should be offered more opportunities for secondments, international exchanges, work shadowing

  • The size and composition of governing bodies should be reviewed, balancing representation with the skills required

  • A slimline executive model for governance should be explored

  • The role of governing bodies in extended schools should be reviewed

  • The DfES should strengthen its mechanisms for limiting burdens on schools

  • New initiatives should be adequately funded

  • The DfES should undertake regular mapping exercises of the effect on schools of the totality of regulations and initiatives

By John Dunford, ASCL General Secretary

© 2017 Association of School and College Leaders