How England's Example Can Give US Leaders a Head Start

By Bloom, Adi | Times Educational Supplement, January 22, 2016 | Go to article overview

How England's Example Can Give US Leaders a Head Start


Bloom, Adi, Times Educational Supplement


Academic urges American educators to look across the pond for tips on creating effective school hierarchies

American educators should take lessons in school leadership from their counterparts in England, a prominent US academic has said.

US schools would particularly benefit from English-style middle-managers with areas of distinct responsibility, according to Jonathan Supovitz, co-director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education.

Professor Supovitz points out that schools in the US still tend to be organised much as they were a century ago: a single, non-teaching principal presiding over department heads and informal teacher-leaders, who lack both authority and training.

He has researched the alternative offered by school leadership structures across the Atlantic, interviewing civil servants, teachers and union officials in England.

"Over the past 15 years, educational reformers in England have made several important revisions in how schools organise leadership, develop leaders and integrate leadership into the larger educational infrastructure," he writes in a paper published in the journal Phi Delta Kappan (bit.ly/Supovitz). "American policymakers and reformers can learn much from these experiences."

Leaders of learning

Professor Supovitz highlights the fact that in the English education system, school leaders at all levels have very clearly defined roles. "Particularly striking from the US perspective is the set of explicit responsibilities for middle leaders to oversee and be accountable for teaching, learning and student behaviour in subject areas or grade levels within a school."

This, he says, moves responsibility and support closer to the classroom. It also allows teachers to refine and develop their leadership skills at various stages of their careers.

"This approach is distinctly different from the [US] model of teacher leadership," he writes.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, agrees that this is one of the strengths of English school leadership. "We've made it very clear that it's leadership of learning, not just administration," he said. "You're a leader of learning first. The administration is to support that, not an end in its own right.

"To choose the right teachers, to develop the right teachers and motivate them - that's the most important part of the head's job, and it's what heads do really well."

Sense and accountability

It is not the first time that US educationalists have tried to learn from school leadership structures in England. …

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