Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

System Leadership for Educational Renewal in England: The Case of Federations and Executive Heads

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

System Leadership for Educational Renewal in England: The Case of Federations and Executive Heads

Article excerpt

Executive heads are those head teachers in England who lead two or more schools that have entered into a federation. One of the more common forms of federations involves a lead school working to improve a partner school (or schools). The executive heads of these federations, and their wider leadership teams, constitute one of an emerging set of practices in England that we refer to as system leadership, or as working for the success and welfare of students in other schools as well as one's own. There is to date only a small and emerging research literature and thus no well-developed analysis on how these roles are being organised. In contributing to this literature, this paper elaborates the concepts of support federations and system leadership in three main ways. First, it explores the historical and policy contexts out of which these roles have developed. Second, it analyses not only how such roles are being undertaken but also what forms of expertise and capacity are mobilised in the pursuit of another school's improvement Third, it considers how these leadership roles might provide alternative solutions to problems that have traditionally been the responsibility and preserve of the central apparatus of the state. We conclude by arguing that professionally-led system leadership offers a means for self-managed schools, emerging from an era of competition, to work together for greater social equity by, among other things, taking joint responsibility for all the students in their locality. This is seen to have relevance not only for England but for Australia as well.

Clifton and Bury Part I

When Alan Riddle arrived as head teacher in 1988, Clifton (1) school was the poor relation of Bury school. It had been for some time. The schools were close neighbours: both served the same housing estate community and both had a high proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, but in that year only four per cent of Clifton's students achieved the benchmark of five 'higher passes' (grades A to C) in the new General Certificate of Secondary Education (GSCE) qualification, while at Bury 35% of students reached the same benchmark. Through the leadership of Riddle, the hard work of staff and the increasing commitment of students, Clifton began a slow but steady improvement. Six years later, and for the first time, a quarter of students achieved the GCSE benchmark. It was an important result that was rightly celebrated at Clifton, but the popping of corks was not heard at Bury. Only 19% of their students had achieved the benchmark that year and thus in 1994 another first was recorded. Bury's results had fallen below Clifton's for the first time in as long as many local people could remember.

Bury had lost its way a little. Its dynamic head teacher, who had always been the first to apply for and win specific grant money, had retired. The curriculum offer, staffing levels and resource expectations had started to become unsustainable under a new head teacher. Standards of achievement in external examinations had peaked. Local perceptions of the school were starting to deflate. It was a very unfortunate time for these first signs of decline to appear. The significant changes introduced in the United Kingdom Parliament's Education Reform Act of 1988 were starting to bite. The Act's language of local educational markets and consumer choice had become a reality. Clear external standards, inspections by the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) and exam league tables were in force. Parents, especially those from middle class backgrounds, had started to vote with their children's feet. Competition between schools for student linked funding was in the ascendancy. The local education authorities' powers and capacity to provide leadership across a locality had been reduced (for all but the weakest of schools where intervention was expected and school closure a real possibility). …

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