Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Look at the big picture

Much has already been written about the PricewaterhouseCoopers study into school leadership. I believe that its lack of prescription gives ASCL a great opportunity to influence thinking about educational leadership.

As part of its evidence gathering, the PWC authors conducted a survey of school leaders. Many asked for a period of stability with no further initiatives.

However, we know that there are many challenges ahead and we must acknowledge that 'change' is now a way of life. The list of changes we will need to implement over the next few years is enormous. To mention but a few:

  • 14-19 diplomas

  • New GCSEs

  • Key stage 3 reform

  • New AS/A levels

  • Admissions

  • The Leitch review

  • Extended schools

  • Every Child Matters

  • Progress measures

Not only have all of these changes to be led and managed, they have to be built into a coherent operational system and tailored to each school's ethos.

One of the favourite phrases of the current government has been 'joined up thinking'. It would have been helpful if someone had mentioned this to the DfES as they appear to work in independent units and have a very limited idea of how all of their initiatives fit together.

It is left to those leading schools and colleges to bring some coherence to this plethora of changes. I'm sure that our life would be made easier if the department looked much more at the big picture. As everyone knows, it is a lot easier to put the jigsaw together when you have the picture on the box. There are times when I'm not certain the pieces they have given us have been designed to actually fit together.

We only have to look back to last year, when we were faced with the SEF, school profile, a change in Ofsted inspections, the introduction of TLRs as well as continuation of workforce reform, to ask, "Has anyone up there got a blueprint for all this?" The expectations of what we can achieve sometimes are both unreasonable and unrealistic.

However these challenges are also great opportunities. As this year's theme for our annual conference is 'leading teams' one of the most pleasing aspect of PWC was the emphasis on distributed leadership, not just the headteacher.

With the increasingly complex nature of schools, distributed leadership is now of critical importance. As schools and college leaders, we will need to take responsibility not only for the education and welfare of our students but also for the development of all staff.

Future leaders

I am convinced that we have a huge potential in our school and college staff to provide the educational leaders of the future. To ensure they are prepared for the challenges they will face, one of our key roles must be to develop distributed leadership in practice now.

Apparently it is not just in education that distributed leadership is important. Rugby experts said that one reason for England's recent poor performances was the "lack of leaders" in the current side. In comparison, when England won the World Cup (soon to be ancient history, I regret to say), one of the key factors was that they had lots of good leaders right through the team.

Moving on from hero head

So what is 'distributed leadership'? It certainly moves us on from the idea of the 'hero head' as it implies many people involved in leadership and a form of collective responsibility for all that happens in the school.

There is no single structure to implement distributed leadership as it is much more about shared problem solving and planning collective action. It means looking at everyone who works within the school as a potential source of leadership.

Distributed leadership is not just a new spin on delegation. It is not just about giving tasks to others; it is about people taking on a whole range of leadership functions and routines. Some of these are already formally recognised by titles such as subject leader or student support leader, whereas others may have no official title but have an equally important role in the leadership of the school.

The increasing use of 'student voice' has helped us to realise the potential leadership contributions that students themselves can make to institutional improvement.

A move to distributed leadership in many ways places a greater responsibility on the head and those in the leadership team. They are responsible for building leadership capacity, empowering others to lead and ensuring that staff are given the appropriate training and development to take on these new roles.

Above all, they must ensure that the school or college is engaged in collective leading and learning.

© 2018 Association of School and College Leaders