At this year's Annual Conference, ASCL launched a year-long project on Ethical Leadership in Education - you can read more about the background to this in Carolyn Roberts' article Shared Values in issue 96 of Leader magazine.
This is the fourth in a series of eight blog posts, where Carolyn adds further context to the subject and poses questions relating to this proposed new commission.
What kind of authority is given to headteachers and how should they use it?
Q4: (knowledge + virtue) + (authority + service) = professionalism? Discuss.
Schools are funny places. Headteachers, Churchill allegedly said, “have powers at their disposal with which Prime Ministers have never yet been invested”, but he was talking from a particular experience, where unfettered authority may have been accompanied by violence.
I once worked with a business manager who was ex-army, Sandhurst-trained. He found the hierarchical anomalies of school life infuriating. “You give an order but only some of them follow it. Some refuse, some make up their own rules, some are sanctioned and some not. And they pilfer from each other all the time.” Teachers, of course.
There are quick answers to the problems above. Headteachers were skilled at ‘intervention in inverse proportion to success’ way before the politicians thought of it. If a teacher turns up every day, keeps good order, gets good results, is reliable in every circumstance, then she might be left to her own devices. Staff rules serve as a statement of expectations; this is what we need to do collectively in order that good education may be achieved.
Generally, headteachers have had opaquely idiosyncratic interpretations of staff behaviour loosely lumped into ‘professional behaviour’. It used to do the trick because actually, professionalism in our context isn’t predicated on compliance, but on ability, knowledge and effectiveness.
A problem of recent years has been the deprofessionalising of teachers and headteachers. From wanting to ensure basic provision is reliable (Nat Strats), to setting competencies (NPQs), to quality assuring provision for taxpayers (OFSTED), to transparency (performance tables), successive governments tried to establish minimum standards of provision and root out failure.
What power does a headteacher have?
Jolly good, but more directives leave less room for judgement, development, self-generated improvement, room for thought and imagination, and measured and informed risk-taking. We reached a stage where headteachers were very powerful within a very limited understanding of what power represents, the power to enforce compliance rather than the power to change hearts and lives. I characterise to annoy.
What, then, is the power that a headteacher has? Is it to be the person who forms a community for good or ill? Who has a real positive effect on a local community? A person who helps form the characters of thousands of children and young people?
Is it a person who stands as the national parent to model the behaviours of a good society? A person who defends the right of the child and young person? A person who hold society to account for higher standards of behaviour and better aims? A person who won’t be swept along by fad or whim or promised status? A person who is honest about himself, his skills and what he can achieve?
Headteachers are given a huge amount of power. They should use it to build up education, the lives of children and the common good. Further than that: what?
In 2018, ASCL would like to be able to propose a Code of Ethics for Education so that together, we’ll be able to talk to the public clearly about the ethics we want to pass on to our young people.
In order to achieve this, we need your help. If you would like to be involved in any way, or if you would like to share your views on this important issue, please email firstname.lastname@example.org