Re-Imagining Educational Leadership


Brian J. Caldwell

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    In 1988 when The Self-managing School by Brian Caldwell and his colleague Jim Spinks was published, it was a revelation to me. At the time I was on the staff of a teacher union in England and caught up in the conflicts over the Education Reform Act 1988 (UK) that followed several years of bitter industrial strife. Yet here in The Self-managing School, I glimpsed an insight into the future; a way in which the teaching profession could regain its self-respect by leading where it really matters to children and their parents—in the school. The Education Reform Act, building on some English experiments, proposed to devolve budgets to every school. At the time it was highly controversial and no-one was quite sure how it could be made to work. In relation to this major innovation, Caldwell and Spinks provided both the rationale and the practical guidance we all craved. Not least because of them, local management became one of the most successful and least contested of the reforms of the next decade.

    Caldwell and Spinks hadn't finished contributing to education reform. The Self-managing School developed into a series in which the authors remained true to the original vision but refined the practice in the light of the emerging international evidence.

    Brian Caldwell became a celebrity among educators in England partly because of his enduring knowledge, wisdom and good nature, and partly (I think he would agree) because it was in England that his vision had most impact. Government and headteachers working together implemented a radical interpretation of what the self-managing school might mean in practice. When Labour was elected in 1997 it drove devolution to an even more radical position. From 2006 this will mean each school receiving a delegated three-year budget.

    Meanwhile, some headteachers working in loose collaboration, often associated with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, took advantage of the freedom and funding they were given to—quite literally—reinvent secondary education. Heads such as Tom Clark, Dexter Hutt, Pat Collarbone, Kevin Satchwell and David Triggs set ambitious goals, achieved standards that had seemed unobtainable a few years before, reorganised their timetables and their staffing models, and deployed technology as an agent of transformation. It was striking to me, whenever I discussed education with heads such as these, how often the name Brian Caldwell came up in the conversation. For Brian, himself a school leader by background, was never a pure academic. He was always connected to schools, always seeking out the leading edge, always learning from practitioners and always providing them with insights, ideas and a rationale.

    In 1998, Brian wrote a seminal article in the Times Educational Supplement. Addressed to the Prime Minister, it was headlined ‘The world is watching, Tony’. Ever since, Brian and many other education reformers have indeed been watching what we're doing in England. We often forget, caught up as we inevitably are in the day-to-day, just how radical and expansive our program of reform continues to be. The 2006 legislation will take this revolution a further step forward. We've had our ups and downs for sure but the evidence suggests many more ups. Above all, more students are achieving better results than ever before, though of course every educator in England knows we can do better still.

    In my view the key to continued success is strong collaboration between government and headteachers at the leading edge of change. Brian Caldwell will no doubt continue to foster and inspire such collaboration. His work will always provide challenges and insights for all of us. Long may the conversation between Brian Caldwell and the English education system continue. The fact that we know you are watching, Brian, helps all of us both to perform well in the present and to invent a future in which we perform better still.

    For these reasons, I commend Brian's writings to anyone committed to world-class public education.

    Professor Sir MichaelBarber Expert Partner, Global Public Sector Practice, McKinsey and Company Former Head of Prime Minister's Delivery Unit at 10 Downing Street, London, UK November 2006


    To Marie


    This book spans 50 years in its coverage of leadership in education—25 years in the past and 25 years in the future. It is anchored in the present, at a point when certainty, coherence and continuity are under challenge, and there is need for a new perspective on purpose, policy and practice in the profession. Expressed simply, it is time to re-imagine educational leadership.

    Henry Mintzberg is pre-eminent in his writing on strategy. He is an advocate of strategic thinking, which he describes as ‘seeing’: seeing ahead, seeing behind, seeing above, seeing below, seeing beside, seeing beyond, and above all, seeing it through. That is what this book endeavours to do for educational leadership. In imagining what leadership will be like in the future (‘seeing ahead’), we need to see where it has come from (‘seeing behind’). We need to understand strategy at the most senior levels (‘seeing above’) but also empathise with those who work at the front-line in achieving the outcomes (‘seeing below’). We can learn much by observing what others are doing in our own countries (‘seeing beside’) but also from the study of how things are done elsewhere (‘seeing beyond’). We must ensure that those who have the privilege to serve as leaders in education can sustain the effort (‘seeing it through’).

    My journey began in 1981 when I returned to Australia after completing doctoral work in Canada on the decentralisation of decision-making in education. My immediate engagement in a project of national significance revealed how schools in what had traditionally been highly-centralised systems of public education could be self-managing. This led to my professional partnership with Jim Spinks, now extending over two decades, as we shared what we learnt around Australia and other nations where momentum was building for the adoption of such an approach. Sir Michael Barber has written of our work in England in the foreword that he kindly agreed to write for this book. There were powerful implications for leaders at all levels. The outcome is that self-management is now part of the culture, and the tipping point was passed at the turn of the twenty-first century. In the strategic frame under consideration, we were able to discern in limited practice a quarter of a century ago what has become part of the scene in the first decade of the 2000s.

    I believe that the main features of what education will be like in the next quarter-century are now starting to emerge in the best of current practice. It is one purpose of this book to describe what is unfolding. The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust in England provided the launching pad for the project by engaging me to write three pamphlets which drew from experience in several countries, and these were the starting points for a series of workshops, each of which informed the next publication. These pamphlets constitute the heart of this book which becomes, in turn, the starting point for 18 workshops in every state and territory of Australia, organised by the Australian College of Educators. More will be learnt from these experiences.

    We do not know the precise form that education will take in different settings in 25 years' time. No-one does. No-one should claim to have this foresight. Leadership is required, however, regardless of the form that education takes. This book describes leadership that is changing the world of education with moral purpose on a scale that can best be described as transformation. Such leadership differs in important ways from what has been expected in the past. It requires a change in role at all levels. It shifts the balance from what is often a dispiriting and discouraging experience to one that is exhilarating. It energises those who work at the system level in the support of schools.

    I express my thanks to the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust for providing the framework within which this book could emerge, and for allowing the contents of pamphlets I wrote for its project on International Networking for Educational Transformation to be incorporated in this book. I am grateful for the scores of school leaders on three continents who shared their successes in formal presentations in 14 workshops in 2005, and the hundreds of others who participated and offered their insights. I acknowledge the interest and support of the Australian Council for Educational Research through ACER Press for its decision to publish the book, and the Australian College of Educators for organising a national program to work with educational leaders in re-imagining their roles. I have no doubt that more will follow on an even larger stage.

    The eminent playwright and philosopher Václav Havel, who served as President of the Czech Republic following the Velvet Revolution, distinguished between ‘hope’ and ‘optimism’. This book is written in the spirit of optimism, and is dedicated to my Czech partner and soul mate Marie, who has given me unstinting support along the way and helped keep my feet on the ground.

    Brian J. Caldwell, Melbourne November 2006

  • Appendix A: A Framework for the Assessment of Governance in Education

    (Department of Education, Science and Training 2005)

    Appendix B: Knowledge Management—Sample Indicators

    The following are illustrative items, adapted for schools, drawn from a self-assessment instrument developed by Rajan, A. et al. (1999) as reproduced in Bahra (2001). Twelve of 38 items are included in the following excerpts, each concerned with a knowledge culture that fosters a systematic approach.

    • Item 1 Benchmarking:
    • Identifying and implementing outstanding practice
    • Item 2 Groupware/intranet:
    • Using technologies across the school to assist the knowledge-sharing process
    • Item 3 Search engine:
    • Creating a substantial, systematic and sustained capacity for acquiring and sharing knowledge
    • Item 4 Knowledge coordinators:
    • Giving individuals the responsibility for coordinating knowledge within a department or unit within the school
    • Item 5 Staff selection criteria:
    • Ensuring that new staff are able to subscribe to the values conducive to knowledge sharing
    • Item 6 Competencies:
    • Ensuring that knowledge-sharing competencies are part of training and developmental initiatives
    • Item 7 Contractual obligations:
    • Getting senior management to actively endorse knowledge management
    • Item 8 Virtual teams:
    • Bringing together teachers and other professionals from different departments or units and in different locations via video conferencing to offer different approaches to thinking and working
    • Item 9 Communities of practice:
    • Promoting self-organised groups where teachers and other professionals exchange ideas and thoughts on common issues, practices, problems and possibilities in the workplace
    • Item 10 Team-based rewards:
    • Recognising and rewarding teamwork
    • Item 11 Metrics:
    • Measuring the impact of knowledge sharing in different areas of the school
    • Item 12 Balanced scorecard:
    • Ensuring that the impact of knowledge management is assessed in terms of learning and other outcomes


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