As with many organisations the leadership of a primary school involves the evolution of a shared vision through effective strategies that allow that vision to be realised. This involves putting all available resources to work in the most effective way to ensure that we provide the best standard of education possible for the children in our care.
The senior management team of a primary school will respect the position of the headteacher who bears the ultimate responsibility for success or failure in pursuit of both the school's aims and the requirements of government departments. The head is the ultimate 'leader' but the activity of leadership is one that can be shared among the senior management team and beyond in the case of curriculum area responsibilities. The team must be prepared to line up in support of the headteacher's initiatives, helping to turn them into practical action and sharing his vision. They must also be confident in putting forward their own ideas and points of view in a constructive and cooperative way.
It is important that the staff and governors of a school work together co-operatively. To steer this wider team is easier if all members want to work in the same direction. The Senior management must therefore be able to communicate effectively, initiating and motivating discussion within the wider team in order to share the initial vision and build upon it. The management must be able to enlist the support and capture the imagination of all those people, diverse in both background and personality, who must work together to evolve and develop the curriculum, both overt and covert, that we deliver to our children.
Leadership is required in all areas of school life. The development of the curriculum and the education we provide is underpinned by the management of staff and their professional development, the buildings and grounds that provide the environment for learning, the careful handling of budgets, resources for learning and the management of an ethos that leads to a constructive approach to school life by children and adults alike. Leadership is also required in forging and maintaining positive links between the school and the wider community in which it is set.
Good leadership must have direction. In other words there must be a sense of where we are going with each initiative we enter into. In order to know where we are headed we must also be aware of where we are coming from. Thus it is a role of the senior management to be aware of all signs that tell us about the state of the school.
They must be aware of the wider school team. Within that team there will be considerable expertise on which to draw. There will be subject specialists with responsibilities for different curriculum areas. There may be newly qualified teachers bringing new and up to date ideas but in need of support as they gain practical experience. There will be those who seek promotion and the management experience that will back up their applications, and those who are content to stay in their present post with their experience of the local community and potentially valuable contribution to the stability of a school. The senior managers will need to evaluate the strengths of the team in order that they may best be applied to achieving the aims of the school, balancing against this judgement the needs and aspirations of the staff, in delegating responsibility for initiatives. In appraisal of staff, including members of the senior management team, we are able to look closely at the delivery of the curriculum at the chalk face. In observing the classroom and talking with colleagues we must be sure that this is seen as a positive entity, and that in looking for commitment to change we ensure adequate resources and support to get the best out of all members of the team without undue stress caused.
The senior management must also be aware of the physical environment of the school, the suitability of learning space and the potential for positive or negative influences on the learning process. The playgrounds and rest areas can have a great effect on the behaviour, relationships and attitudes of the children and staff that use them. An audit of resources, books, materials and their accessibility will provide us with useful information. The ease with which children can find their own resources will affect the level of independence that they can show in their work.
Through good communication with parents and members of the local community the management must be aware of changes, incidents and occasions that will require a response from the school. They will lead initiatives that allow the reputation of the school in the community to be enhanced and provide children with wider opportunities than are possible within the institution. They will work closely with the P.T.A. in fundraising and events that set the school in a wider social context. There may even be a case for compiling a register of skills and time offered by parents and parishioners who volunteer to help in school or with trips.
The senior management must be aware of the funds available to perform the tasks and initiatives entered into, knowing which funds are available for different purposes and whether they can be used in other areas of activity.
They will also need to be aware of the many changes facing all schools which are initiated outside the locality at local and national government level. Not least at this time the coming Literacy Hour to be up and running in September. Through contact with circulars, bulletins and the education media they will need to have a general overview of the thinking behind these changes.
And of course the team must be aware of the standards being achieved by the children in the school, talking with them and looking at the work produced, both as a result of normal classroom activity and through more formal assessment. Increasingly we must now compare the achievements of our children with those of other comparable schools. Whether or not we agree with the underlying ethos of performance tables the resulting data can be very useful in throwing up questions that may need to be addressed. We should also be in touch with the attitudes and behaviour of our children as they engage in the learning process.
However no amount of self awareness built up in this way will be of any use unless there is the intention to act on the findings. Having ascertained where we are coming from the senior management team must therefore be responsible for prioritising those initiatives that they consider to be essential or desirable and set targets that can be achieved in a carefully considered action plan. In that plan it should be clear which issue is to be focussed on and how progress is to be monitored and evaluated, with review dates and relevant personnel identified. In many curriculum initiatives it may be appropriate to give responsibility to someone outside the senior management but the team will need to have an overview of what is happening.
Each initiative, be it curriculum development, changing the school environment, staff development or changes imposed by government will need to be allocated appropriate time, resources and money according to priority.
The management then has a duty to the wider team to keep things running smoothly. We must therefore aim to minimise any factors that impede our progress and maximise those influences that facilitate our task. The allocation of hall times or the ordering and storage of consumable resources must not be allowed to get in the way of the delivery of the curriculum. Organisational hiccups can be powerful demotivators. In monitoring and evaluating the success of plans and strategies produced as a staff, systems need to be evolved in a context of mutual support without undue stress. These systems must serve the school and not the school the systems. Motivation is improved where staff see the benefits of what they are asked to do, both for the children and for themselves.
But for all the many areas in which we consciously try to improve the education of the children in our care we must also be seen as leaders in another sense. Children look to significant people in their society as role models. Leadership by example in the way we treat each other and in the importance we place in those aspects of the school's ethos that give it its special character will be vital if we want the children to buy in to the values we are trying to encourage. In introducing new initiatives to staff a do as I say not as I do approach will bear no fruit. It is said that 95% of cognitive learning is unconscious, leading to imitation and emulation of role models. The 5% of conscious learning will not be effective if the messages we give are wildly at odds with the hidden messages children read into us.
In summary, the senior management of a primary school in fulfilling its leadership role must be aware of the current state of the school, be imaginative in launching new and relevant initiatives in a way that can motivate the whole school behind them, be diligent in keeping track of the progress these initiatives are making and the targets achieved and be sincere in trying to lead by example, taking to heart those things that we expect those who follow to give due importance.