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The Importance of School Leadership

Perhaps the most important task of the school leader is to ensure that pupils receive teaching of the highest possible quality. According to Leithwood et al. (2006, p. 3), ‘school leadership is second only to classroom teaching as an influence on pupil learning,’ and ‘the central task for leadership is to help improve employee performance.’
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0

Learning-centred leadership is an approach that focuses on the quality of teaching and learning in classrooms.

The Importance of School Leadership

Perhaps the most important task of the school leader is to ensure that pupils receive teaching of the highest possible quality.

According to Leithwood et al. (2006, p. 3), ‘school leadership is second only to classroom teaching as an influence on pupil learning,’ and ‘the central task for leadership is to help improve employee performance.’

Lewis and Murphy (2008, p. 8) reiterate this, noting that:

School leaders’ knowledge of and commitment to technical excellence in teaching has been shown to be critical… three powerful tactics can influence teachers’ practice: modelling… monitoring… [and] dialogue.
This is also illuminated by Ofsted’s inspection criteria for Evaluating the Effectiveness of Leadership and Management of Teaching and Learning:
Inspectors should evaluate:
  • How effectively leaders and managers realise an ambitious vision for the school, have high expectations of pupils and secure support from others.
  • How well the school uses challenging targets to raise standards for all pupils and eliminate any low attainment among particular groups.
  • How well leaders and managers at all levels drive and secure improvement, ensuring high-quality teaching and learning, by using relevant information about the school’s performance to devise, implement, monitor and adjust plans and policies.
(Ofsted, 2019)
However, there is plenty of evidence of the gap between theory and practice.

School Leadership Theory v Practice

A PwC study into school leadership (2007) notes that: ‘school leaders generally believe that they are doing this well, but the feedback from teachers and support staff suggests that this is not the case.’
There are similar instances in McKinsey’s Capturing the Leadership Premium (Barber, 2010). Asked to select, from a list of six, the three most important skill areas for leaders, 100% of respondent leaders chose ‘coaching and supporting the development of others’ but only 39% chose ‘Performance management and evaluation.’ Since the effective performance of the first is dependent on the second, this demonstrates the disconnect between expectation and reality.
The same study went on to report that high performing principals focus more on instructional leadership and developing teachers. It also found that high performers are more likely to report that they enjoy teaching.
In How the World’s Best Performing School Systems Come Out on Top, Barber and Mourshed (2007) detail just that. The best performing schools are the best performing schools because:
  1. They attract high-quality teachers. ‘The quality of a system can not exceed the quality of its teachers.’
  2. They believe that the only way to improve outcomes is to improve the quality of instruction:
    Teachers need to:
    • Be aware of their own professional weaknesses
    • Understand, in practical terms, the nature of best practice
    • be motivated to improve.
    School systems need to:
    • Provide coaches in schools to develop teachers
    • Select and develop heads who are effective instructional leaders
    • Allow teachers to learn from each other
  3. They monitor the process and (where necessary) intervene to ensure every child is benefiting from what is being provided.
    The study notes that the best principals spent their time:
    • Coaching and mentoring their teachers
    • Improving instruction and demonstrating a set of behaviours that build the capacity and motivation of their teachers to constantly improve their own instruction

Your task

How near is life in your school to the priorities and practices of the world’s ‘best-performing’ systems? What still needs work?

References

Leithwood, K., Day, C., Sammons, P., Harris, A., & Hopkins, D. (2006). Seven strong claims about successful school leadership. National College for School Leadership

Lewis, P., & Murphy, R. (2008). Review of the landscape: Leadership and leadership development. National College for School Leadership

Ofsted. (2019). School inspection handbook. GOV.UK

PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers). (2007). Independent Study into School Leadership: Main Report. DfES

Barber, M., Whelan, F., & Clark, M. (2010) Capturing the leadership potential: How the world’s top school systems are building leadership capacity for the future. McKinsey & Company

Barber, M., & Mourshead, M. (2007). How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top. Mckinsey & Company

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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