With the appointment of Sir Michael Barber as the independent chair of the new Foundation for Leadership in Education, ASCL’s Director of Policy Leora Cruddas considers why the Foundation is important.
The thrust of reforms of the past four years have been to take us towards an autonomous and self-improving system. The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) has been recast in the light of this policy.
However, as an executive body of the DfE, the NCTL is not profession-led. Government cannot deliver a school-led system, only the profession can. School leaders have to be key agents in leading, informing and enabling a school-led, self-improving system. The Foundation for Leadership in Education will be a body that is irreversibly owned and led by the profession and the profession-led, successor-body to the National College of School Leadership.
High performing jurisdictions such as Ontario have adopted the model of the profession taking ownership of leadership qualifications and standards. In Australia, profession-led certification is well-advanced. Our Foundation provides an opportunity to build upon this model of international best practice.
So what will the Foundation do?
Develop and promote leadership pathways, standards and profiles
An aspirational set of headteacher standards has recently been published. The Foundation will build on this work to develop a suite of developmental leadership standards reflecting the different stages of the leadership pathway and built on:
vision and values, including a code of ethics
knowledge and understanding
personal qualities and interpersonal skills
Quality assure and, where appropriate, accredit leadership development programmes
The Foundation will work with the profession to map and develop a full suite of professional programmes and academic qualifications.
It is our intention to secure the future of the national professional qualifications (NPQs). In the rapidly changing landscape of school structures and leadership we want to ensure that there is no interruption in the leadership pipeline. We intend to work with government and senior civil servants in this time to manage the transition.
We know that in the diverse leadership landscape, there are key points at which the leadership tasks and challenges change fundamentally. The step from practitioner to middle leader is a significant change with a need to balance classroom practice with departmental or faculty leadership. The step into senior leadership is also significant as leaders make the leap into a whole school or group perspective.
There is a significant change in being the head teacher or principal of a stand-alone school and the executive leader of a small group of schools. The leadership task presents more challenges once again when needing to develop an infrastructure for a group of schools. At this point, executive leadership must transition into the CEO model. We need leadership programmes that address learning needs at these different points in a career.
Curate the evidence on professional knowledge and leadership effectiveness
The Foundation will establish a Leadership Research Council which will bring together the research bodies and the research funding bodies. A profession-led National Leadership Research Panel (NLRP) will identify gaps in the literature on leadership effectiveness and advise the Leadership Research Council.
The Council will support the Foundation in curating and disseminating credible research on leadership effectiveness. An explicitly stated theme of our work will be to address endemic educational inequality, variation and the ‘long tail’ of underachievement.
The Foundation will seek to work with other professional bodies and the commercial sector to gain a secure understanding of leadership effectiveness, and in particular executive leadership. While education leadership will always be unique in that it involves instructional leadership (or leadership of learning), there is a lot to be gained by looking outwards and upwards beyond leadership in education to understand what the evidence about good effective executive leadership looks like.
Review and work to secure the leadership pipeline
The Foundation intends to undertake a thorough analysis of available data on the leadership pipeline and identify gaps in the data. As an initial piece of work, the Foundation intends to publish a pamphlet identifying problems and solutions. Our underlying assumption (based on secure evidence) is that the system cannot improve without a secure supply of high quality teachers and leaders.
Create a sense of collective endeavour and build public confidence in the education system
There is now compelling evidence from the McKinsey research, How the World’s Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better, that the journey from a good to a great education system marks the point at which the system comes to rely largely on the values and behaviours of its teachers and leaders to drive continuous improvement.
Researchers on educational improvement have moved steadily from a rather singular focus on the school as the unit of change or improvement (or indeed group of schools), to a more sophisticated conception of the network of leaders who are crucial to policy implementation and improvement. We know that the stronger a professional network, the more likely educators – at all levels - are to stay in the profession, feel a greater sense of efficacy and engage more deeply in leading improvement.
In most professions, there is a system architecture which creates a distinctive knowledge and evidence-base, professional qualifications, licensing, ethical codes, professional identity and a sense of collective endeavour. The fraternal bodies of the College of Teaching and the Foundation would create such an architecture for education in England and Wales.
Part of the sense of collective endeavour is constructive dialogue between education leaders, policy makers and government. The Foundation will endeavour to create the conditions to ensure the implementation of current reform programmes and future reform are based in mutual trust and respect, and focused on the best interests of children and young people.
More information is available in our press release. Leora also discusses the Foundation in an article in TES.