I’ve just returned from the Association of Directors Education Scotland (ADES) annual conference. This year’s theme was “Leaders Advancing Learning” and the conference proved to be one of the best events I’ve ever had the privilege to attend.
The highlight for me was Steve Munby, from the National College of School Leadership. Steve is directly accountable to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, and as such has no locus within Scotland. Nevertheless, there is much to admire from philosophy and approach adopted by the college – and Steve in particular.
Steve’s central point (at least for me) was around the question of how to improve a school facing challenging circumstances. He identified three possibilities 1. Close and reopen the school 2. Insert a “Hero” Headteacher 3. Build the capacity of the school from within.
Steve pointed out that evidence would suggest that the most effective solution is linked to option 3 but that it needs a particular form of support if that to be achieved.
Taking teachers’s out and putting them on courses – doesn’t work
External “experts” coming into the school – doesn’t work
Expecting leaders within the school to change their practice, when they don’t really know what good leadership looks like – doesn’t work.
Linking such a school in partnership with a successful school – does work. I didn’t quite catch the rate of improvement this approach leads to but it was of a very significant order compared to any other model of school improvement. But what was particularly interesting was that the improvement was also measurable in the supporting school – wow!
What an incentive for developing such an approach in Scotland.
Here’s a lift from their website:
The National Leaders of Education (NLEs) and National Support Schools Programme (NSSs) draws upon the skills and experience of our very best school leaders, as well as their schools, to provide additional leadership capacity to, and raise standards within, schools facing challenging circumstances. The programme is underpinned by the powerful notion of schools leading schools.
The National College oversees the quality assurance of NLEs, provides ongoing support to NLEs and their schools and helps to broker the support of NLEs and their NSSs to maximise the impact of the programme.
Since the first group of NLEs and NSSs were designated in 2006, the programme has gathered momentum quickly and has been one of the most successful levers of sustainable school improvement. Crucially the schools and academies supported by NLEs are improving at a significantly faster rate than other schools nationally, and the results of the schools providing support continue to rise.
The programme also helps to utilise the powerful contributions that NLEs are able to make at a strategic level, to education policy and the future of the school system.
Steve pointed out that the bar is set very high for schools to become National Leaders of Education.
So could such a system work in Scotland? I believe it could but I’ll explore some of the barriers which may have to be overcome in a future post.
Lastly, in response to one of my questions, Steve identified the importance of the Parent body, in England they are governors, but I think it can translate to our Parent Councils in Scotland where they are supported by the local authority to promote local accountability. This links back to recent evidence from the OECD which clearly shows that improved student performance directly correlates with increased levels of school autonomy with associated public accountability.
Such evidence suggests that our direction of travel towards Community Partnership Schools is, at the very least, on the right lines.