26 SES 09 B, Success and the Competencies and Context that Support it
This paper explores the underpinning rationale and ascribed purposes of headteacher (principal) preparation and induction, germane to many European and international systems, where the role of the headteacher is perceived as central to system-wide efforts to raise achievement and to address an attainment gap. The Scottish education system provides a case study for examining the implications of a policy reform agenda for the preparation and induction of headteachers (principals). The paper draws from a multi-strand research project, ‘The Future of Headship’, where policy analysis is combined with investigating the lived experiences and practices of headteachers. In this paper we draw from data to examine the implications for headship preparation and induction. The current research is situated in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A key element of the reform programme, ‘The Empowerment Agenda’, (SG 2018) is the Headteachers’ Charter designed to re-shape this role. Heralded by central government as the means “to give headteachers the power and autonomy to make decisions for children in their care” (SG 2017: 26), the Charter is underpinned by policy imperatives for which headteachers are to be held accountable. Headteachers are firstly, required to collaborate within and beyond their school and secondly, to raise attainment, thereby closing the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged learners. In doing so, the responsibility for closing this poverty-related attainment gap is placed on schools and more specifically, on headteachers, with education accountable for wider socio-economic issues. Further, education policy has been contextualised through and by the global pandemic. While the pandemic is temporary, its impact is not and is reshaping the enactment of policy and practice leadership. This paper explores firstly, the tensions between policy expectations and professional responsibilities alongside increased headteacher autonomy. Then secondly, the paper examines the implications for headship preparation and induction in a context where the impact of pandemic is changing significantly the role of the headteacher and potentially undermining the policy aspiration for greater headteacher autonomy.
The purposes and approaches to be used in headship preparation and induction are contested, in particular the balancing of the individual participant’s professional development with the drive for institutional transformation (Forde 2011). Headship development has become a key element of the increased policy attention on system-wide improvement efforts (Bush 2018). As other systems, Scotland has invested heavily in headship preparation and induction programmes (Hamilton et al. 2018) but little attention or investment paid to their the evaluation and impact. In part, this may be attributed to the observation by Cowie and Crawford (2006) that there are limited sets of tools to investigate the impact of such programmes on the practice of headteachers after graduation.
Fluckiger et al. (2014: 564) provide a set of literature-derived criteria for the quality of leadership preparation, proposing that such programmes should be ‘philosophically and theoretically attuned to individual and system needs in leadership and professional learning’. Previous expectations for the development of the participant along with impact on school practice, have been extended to include expectations related to system-level impact. The impact of the pandemic has heightened understandings of the significance of context-responsive leadership (Harris 2020), particularly the role of school leadership in defining the desired outcomes and working towards these in ways that are appropriate to that school context. These wider issues create an inherent tension in government funded development programmes as to their overarching purpose: to enable headteachers to implement effectively current government education policy; or to build the agency of headteachers in determining the priorities for the school and its community, in order to address the needs of diverse groups of learners.
This tension between preparing headteachers to address policy priorities or to develop context-responsive leadership, led the researchers to ask ‘What are the implications for headship preparation and induction of the changing role of the headteacher in Scottish education. The initial analysis of this multi-strand research project employed Bacchi’s (2012) analytical framework of ‘what the problem represented to be’ (WPR), to identify the construction of the problem(s) that a policy agenda is intended to solve. This paper draws from two further components of the research project. The first component examines the policy intentions (Taylor 1998) underpinning the empowerment reform programme through a textual analysis of the Headteachers’ Charter and associated documents (SG 207, 2018, 2019). The second component draws from data derived from discussion groups using the Delphi Method process (Rowe and Wright 1999) with two groups: (1) headteachers, (2) teacher educators working in the area of leadership development. As a research tool, the Delphi Method creates a forum for participants to examine a specific issue in which they have expertise and/or experience. The method is used variously including as a tool to identify the range of opinions, or to build consensus across a group (Hsu and Sandford 2007). The Delphi Method comprises an iterative process in which a set of open-ended questions are used in round 1, and then the responses are collated, anonymised and thematically analysed. A summary of the main themes from the responses to each question is circulated in a second round, and the participants are asked to critically appraise these add further proposals and clarifications. This process continues for two further rounds until a broad set of issues related to the evolving role of the headteachers is identified. For the headteachers the questions for round 1 related to their lived experiences of the changing policy role expectations, their practice experiences of the evolving role including reference to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and finally, their perceptions of the implications for the preparation and ongoing development of headteachers. For teacher educators the questions for round 1 related to their understandings of the policy context and priorities and the implications of the changing expectations on the curriculum and assessment of headteacher preparation and induction programmes.
In the case study system, the perceived policy problem is an enduring attainment gap, where limited headteacher autonomy is identified as creating barriers to tackling this problem. As with other education systems, the focus for the corresponding reform programme is on the creation of a “school and teacher-led education system” (SG 2018:4). The data highlights tensions related to the Charter as a process of ‘responsibilising’ headteachers (Keddie 2015). While the reform programme explicitly increases autonomy, implicitly there is increasing accountability. These findings raise questions about the focus of headship preparation. Two key areas of responsibility in the Charter require headteachers to act autonomously and collaboratively. Though these concepts are threaded through policy documents, the policy analyses and Delphi discussions indicate a lack of clarity. Responsibility for collaboration is shaped by the bounded nature of autonomy: thus, headteachers “must work collaboratively with their staff, parents, pupils, and wider partners including other schools and their local authority on curriculum design and improving teaching and learning” (SG 2018: 3). The circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic added a significant dimension to these responsibilities - the role of schools in supporting their community was critical. The paper concludes by proposing a conceptual model to underpin headship preparation, in which individual capabilities are shaped by and shape the context of practice, this context being expanded beyond the school to other schools and the wider community. Thus, the proposed model delineates the contextual variables, professional actions and defining factors of successful collaborative practice (Mitchell 2019) and includes the development of interdisciplinary practice with other education sectors including community education, and other agencies. This model is complemented by an understanding of autonomy as agency using Priestley et al.’s (2015) ecological construction, based on the interplay of personal capacities and with the opportunities and constraints of the context.
Bush, T. (2018). Preparation and induction for school principals: Global perspectives. Management in Education, 32(2), 66-71. Fluckiger, B., Lovett, S., and Dempster, N. (2014). Judging the Quality of School Leadership Learning Programmes: An International Search. Professional Development in Education 40(4), 561–575. Forde, C. (2011). Leadership for learning: Educating educational leaders. In Townsend, T., and MacBeath, J. (Eds.).International Handbook of Leadership for Learning (pp. 355-374). Springer, Dordrecht. Hamilton, G., Forde, C., and McMahon, M. (2018). Developing a coherent strategy to build leadership capacity in Scottish education. Management in Education, 32(2), 72-78. Harris, A. (2020) COVID-19–school leadership in crisis?. Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 5 ( 3-4), 321-326. Hsu, C.C., and Sandford, B.A. (2007). The Delphi technique: making sense of consensus. Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation, 12(1), 10: 1-8. Keddie, A. (2015). New modalities of state power: neoliberal responsibilisation and the work of chains. International Journal of Inclusive Education 19(11), 1190-1205. Mitchell, A.J. (2019). Professional Collaboration to improve educational outcomes in Scottish schools: Developing a conceptual framework. Unpublished Thesis, University of Glasgow. Priestley, M., Biesta, G. and Robinson, S. (2015). Teacher Agency: An Ecological Approach. London: Bloomsbury Academics. Scottish Government (2016). Empowering teachers, parents and communities to achieve Excellence and Equity in Education – A Governance Review. Edinburgh: SG. Scottish Government. (2017). Empowering Schools: A Consultation on the Provisions of the Education (Scotland) Bill. Edinburgh: SG. Scottish Government (2018). Education Reform – Joint Agreement. Edinburgh: SG. Scottish Government (2019). Empowering Schools Education Reform: Progress Report. Edinburgh: SG. Taylor, S. (1997). Critical policy analysis: Exploring contexts, texts and consequences, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 18(1), 23–35.
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