Monday, 11 March 2013

Leadership, Autonomy and Change

This post was originally created as a reply to a question posed by Bill Boyd ( and was inspired by recommendations made in  'By Diverse Means: Improving Scottish Education'

Key Question: Is it possible for a collegiate culture to exist in schools if the headteacher is effectively the chief executive of a largely autonomous organisation?

The ‘autonomous’ college has been in existence since post incorporation and, until recently, has remained unchallenged. What colleges have experienced, however, has been a perpetual state of flux…that is a failure to universally agree on a structure that effectively serves the needs of our learners and the resultant cyclical ‘re-structures’ have done little but push us toward the abyss. As I mentioned in my tweet to Bill, autonomy would only be a systemic shift that would need to be followed up by more profound cultural change. Effective leadership and resourcing will always be pre-requisites in the quest for change, however, as Fearghal (@fkelly) asserts, ‘some of us want to go much further’, and here, I would suggest, is where the catalyst for change lies. The visionary teachers of today must be allowed to be the empowered and unencumbered leaders of tomorrow.


Much can be made of “By Diverse Means: Improving Scottish Education”, published earlier this week by the Commission on School Reform, however, one thing’s for sure….it will not be widely read! A bold statement, you may claim, but one I genuinely believe to be true. The more salient question I suppose is, does this lack of engagement in such research matter? I believe it does.

My rationale stems from a believe that, while reports such as these are far reaching in their examination of our education system (there are 37 recommendations!), the average practitioner’s thoughts on such a system will rarely extend beyond their experiential boundaries. Lack of support, time and resources are generally the major criticisms that emanate from the profession, alongside the perennial ‘non-specific’ concerns surrounding ‘lack of effective leadership’. Leadership has become something of a panacea for the education system and, if executed effectively, it can go a long way to creating the right conditions for change. One of the simplest but undoubtedly neglected realities of our time is that managers administer and maintain, whilst leaders innovate and develop. It is exactly this lack of focus on innovation and development that leads teachers into their insular habits. Moreover, if the conditions do not exist to empower leaders, those with the qualities required to be effective will either become victims of perpetual dissonance or will sadly leave the profession.

Bill’s key question was: Is it possible for a collegiate culture to exist in schools if the head teacher is effectively the chief executive of a largely autonomous organisation? My answer is yes, so long as the conditions for collegiality are in place.

Recommendation 27 is a heartening one, in that the Scottish College forEducational Leadership should be established. Hopefully, such an institution will inspire trust and focus on people, and that they will truly succeed in navigating teachers away from the recurring theme of inertia toward a more sustainable future for learners and professionals alike.

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