International Confederation of Principals

ESHA Response to the OECD Project - "Improving School Leadership"

The OECD Report: ‘Improving School Leadership’ - (DRAFT) ESHA Response

Click here to download the complete ESHA paper below (88Kb pdf file).

In the past decade schools, teaching and learning have become significant priorities for many educational agendas
internationally. Alongside, a parallel focus is increasingly on the development of an awareness and search for models
of school leadership in the future which are able to meet the needs of schools, the community and of wider society.
We recognise that research consistently confirms the impact which leadership plays in improving school outcomes by influencing the motivations and capacities of teachers, as well as the school climate and environment, by multiplying the effectiveness of all associated with schools, children and learning.

As many countries move towards greater decentralisation (with increased school autonomy) schools themselves then become held to more and more accountability for their results – and, all at a time where schools are serving more diverse populations.

Many countries conclude that the traditional role of the headteacher (in meeting the needs of the past) is no longer an effective, nor appropriate, model to reflect the new role for schools and the emerging agenda for their societies.
New models for school leadership lead to new roles and career opportunities which, in turn, reflect the ever-changing individuals’ career expectations of the modern workplace alongside fast moving/shifting social attitudes in our communities. So, the landscape for leadership in our schools and school systems needs to change to recognise a future ‘shape’ which can command both the professional confidence of all partners and where we can bring together the right people in the right roles to work in the right structures in the right context to improve outcomes for learning.

OECD’S four main policy levers identified the need to:
1.    (Re)define school leadership responsibilities – provide higher degrees of autonomy with appropriate support; redefine leadership responsibilities for improved student learning
2.    Distribute school leadership – encourage it, support it and support school bodies in their tasks.
3.    Develop skills for effective leadership – leaders need specific training to respond to broadened roles and responsibilities; to treat leadership development as a continuum; to ensure consistency of provision and to ensure appropriate variety for effective training
4.    Make school leadership an attractive profession – professionalizing the recruitment process; focus on relative attractiveness of school leaders’ salaries; provide options and support for career development.

Where governments do address these findings and invest in the future of their youth it is clear that there is a consistent regard and commitment to ensuring sufficient support  for schools, for educational resources and to promote school leadership’s development. Leadership development should be a continuum for all in the school’s workforce within a core element – and an expectation – for all teachers from their first point of entry to the profession. More work needs to be undertaken to identify the common characteristics of leadership with the key skills and competencies needing to be recognised, practised and applied from a teacher’s initial entry into the profession. It is only then that we are to prepare and grow the future leadership of our school systems and structures at all levels in order to be able to meet the future agenda for leading schools.

ESHA Context
In 2008 ESHA held their biennial conference in Copenhagen, bringing together around 500 delegates from across the full range of their European School Heads Association membership of 36 member nations. As an ‘association of associations’ ESHA strives to meet key aims and to not interfere in national issues, but play its’ role at the European level by influencing European policy and practice. Furthermore, members of ESHA have important common values and convictions such as:

  • education should offer each student equal opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills, and also their personality if schools are to prepare them for full participation in society
  • our world is a global village in which our youngsters will be mobile inhabitants; international aspects therefore should be integrated in their education
  • schools should be constantly looking for innovation and for possibilities to restyle their approach, making use of all possible means ie ICT
  • school heads can - and should - make the difference within their school in activating and building teamwork approaches to school life for both staff members and students
  • national associations have to pave the way to support heads in their work with a continuous focus on the working conditions of school leadership
  • ESHA has to facilitate and stimulate the growth and development of member associations across Europe and build networks for school leadership at the global level

ESHA is involved in all matters that are relevant for school leaders within an international community in which the experiences, visions and views between the members are promoted, encouraged, shared and exchanged. It is where new ideas are developed by:

  • discussing and developing views within the ESHA-membership on innovative education and on school leadership
  • identifying and sharing good practice in school leadership
  • promoting these views at the European level
  • influencing the policy of the European institutions (European Commission, European Parliament)
  • promoting international exchange and cooperation
  • supporting the member organisations to play their role at the national level
  • providing commentary on the quality and development of education policy and practice
  • promoting the position of school leaders and the quality of school leadership

Currently, we recognize that the educational context is in a state of permanent change and development in many
countries across Europe, with some or all of the following challenges:

  • growing differentiation and diversification amongst the student population (migration and mobility)
  • growing ‘supply’ of methodology for learning and/or learning and teaching styles
  • increasing use of IT and internet to support the learning process
  • increasing relevance of international migration and mobility and associated issues
  • declining social position of teachers
  • difficulty in the recruitment of teachers and periodic shortages of staff
  • decreasing budget allocations to education/schools
  • increasing tension within families and communities as a result of the economic downturn

The keynote address to the 2008 ESHA conference made by Dr Barbara Issinger, OCED Director of Education, extended the invitation to ESHA members to respond to the content, recommendations and findings of the Report and the additional follow-up Case Studies.

In November 2008, ESHA attended the ICP (International Confederation of Principals) Council Meeting in Windsor to observe ICP’s initial response to the Report.  Use was made of Professor Louise Stoll’s Toolkit to identify the key messages in each of the four findings and the follow-up recommendations for system leadership.

Delegates acknowledged that the report makes a number of important points, the first being that ‘Improving Leadership’ is an international report drawn from research across 22 nations, looking at School Leadership now and suggesting the key priorities for the future.

Priorities emerged, such as:
•    Effective school leadership is essential if we are to improve the quality of teaching and learning within each school and to connect individual schools to the outside world
•    Models of leadership over the past decade have led towards greater autonomy and increased the accountability of schools with the outcome that the quality of school leadership is more important than ever.
•    Understanding that quality leadership is vital for sustained school improvement to become embedded within the system

The Toolkit’s use of gap analysis to prioritise ICP’s response involved a wide range of delegates working together over two days to identify the key elements arising from the four main areas of responsibility – a focus which highlights the key tasks facing school leadership if (leadership) is to improve the quality of teaching and learning within schools:
•    supporting and developing teacher quality
•    defining goals and measuring progress
•    strategic resource management
•    collaboration with external partners

Research suggests that an essential function of school leadership is to foster ‘organisational learning’, that is, to build the capacity of the school for high performance and continuous improvement through the development of its’ staff and to, thereby, create the climate, culture and ethos – the conditions for collective learning and the thoughtful and ‘intelligent’ use of data to improve curriculum and instruction (similar research outcomes are also identified within McKinseys ‘World Best Performing Schools’).

The ESHA General Board met in Dublin in March 2009 to further refine and build on the preparatory work undertaken by ICP delegates in Windsor. The key areas from the Toolkit were revisited by representative members from across 28 European countries to establish priority order/ranking of key statements drawn from the Toolkit. The highest scored areas for European Schools Leadership emerged strongly, as follows:

•    It is essential that leadership development provision is offered throughout all stages in a school leader’s career if we are to develop and embed effective skills in our workforce. Therefore, for all staff, we believe that it is essential that school leaders understand that the promotion and provision of high quality in-service professional development for the school team is one of their key responsibilities

•    Structures in schools should encourage the development of leadership teams if we are to develop distributed leadership

•    A key pre-requisite for attracting people into leadership positions is that potential leaders are identified and encouraged to develop their leadership practices at an early stage – and, that a school leaders’ career development is part of a continuum from initial entry to the profession

•    School leaders have sufficient autonomy to lead the practices most likely to improve student learning – re-defining the role and activity of many school leaders across Europe

•    Additionally, if we are to re-define the workforce ESHA believes that school leaders should be involved in teacher recruitment decisions and that school leaders have both the capacities and opportunities to carry out teacher monitoring and evaluation

•    If we are to recruit and retain high quality school leadership salaries need to compare well with similar grades in the public and private sectors

Three other areas were also identified as important for successful European School Leadership in the future:
•    Teachers are encouraged to participate in leadership to strengthen succession planning
•    Accountability mechanisms need to reflect distributed leadership arrangements
•    Distributed leadership is recognized and reinforced in existing policy e.g. in national leadership frameworks

The subsequent section for ‘System Leadership’ identified the following areas in priority order:

•    There is a culture of trust and collaboration between school leaders in different schools

•    Leadership developments support leaders to reduce achievement gaps between schools

•    Incentives exist to encourage school leaders to work for the success of other schools e.g. rewards, recognition etc

•    There is system-wide consensus that the engagement of school leaders in collaborative activities is important and valued

•    Supporting school leaders’ career development – we acknowledge that this is important to do even though most OECD countries do not necessarily have formalised cpd opportunities for school leaders and/or a National College or Centre to co-ordinate respective national priorities into the effective development of leadership focussed programmes.

Leadership already looks very different across European member nations and their respective school systems with considerable variance across countries – and, even where system leadership emerges as a recommended future structure (Finland & England) the context for both these countries is in clear contrast ie in Finland there are the narrowest differences between the highest and lowest performing schools with the opposite being evident in Engalnd where the ‘performance gap’ is widest, and widening. However, it is clear that an emerging ‘theme’ is for school leadership to be expected to play a greater role in instructional leadership through the need for real and active opportunities to monitor and evaluate teacher performance in the classroom. Another theme is for arrangements for the training, selection and induction of staff at all levels need to be formalised through effective mentoring and coaching for the workforce and through planned professional development opportunities for all working in our schools.

Such a clear change in direction for the working role and activity of a future school leader together with a shift in emphasis from the more administrative and management day-to-day operation towards leadership activity and focus to drive the academic vision and the strategic planning for the school by ‘developing deeper layers of leadership and building a culture and community of learning…’

We know that school leaders can only have an impact on pupil outcomes if they have sufficient professional autonomy and support to make the important decisions such as the initial selection and recruitment of teachers/staff. It is only when a school leader’s responsibilities are well-defined and clearly focused on the quality of what happens in all classrooms can there be a real impact on teaching and learning and the resultant outcomes. Key questions, therefore, arise from European School Leaders such as:

‘Should this be the central task of the school leader… is this what my role is? Should leadership be predominantly focussed on supporting, evaluating and developing teacher quality through rigorous and systematic monitoring of the planning, the setting and the delivery of learning objectives… and the associated (intelligent) assessment and self-evaluative activity?
A key extract from the OECD’s Report is emphasised by the UK’s NCSL in their vision for the on-going challenge of making school leadership an attractive professional ambition is confidence and understanding that leadership for the future is a domain where:

‘People can move within a matrix, not a hierarchy. They take breaks and return. And career decisions can lead individuals in and out of the school environment, across agencies and other organisations, still arriving at headship… in this environment, a career path must be a flexible concept too, perhaps better thought of as a framework. It should capture… broad ambitions and goals, but enable you to flex to circumstance and opportunity as they arise… the only person who will manage your career is you. You need other people to help you along the way, but only you can drive it. You must own your own career path…’

March 2009


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