What Makes a Good School?


What Makes a Good School?

2 Sep ’10 Headship Leadership 0

Good management is the essential handmaiden to leadership

What makes a good school? Written by Sir Tim Brighouse, first publish nearly 20 years ago, was my third and final loan book from the HTLC Leadership Library. A free leadership book deliver service flying well below the radar. Despite its published date (1991), I decided to read it, to infer whether educational leadership landscape is changing,  but also because I have enjoy Sir Tim Brighouses’ common sense approach to education. Much of the advice given in the book is aimed at Headteachers and is as relevant today, as it was twenty years ago, if some of the policy references are out-dated. It would suggest to me that educational leadership, if it is indeed changing, is changing slowly. Should there be any headteachers out there, stumbling upon this post, I would welcome your views and comments.

The Opening Chapters

Success in one headship is no guarantee of success in another headship is different circumstances.

Running a small department may not be preparation for running a large one.
Success in one part of the country is no guarantee of success elsewhere. Culture plays its part.

These comments led me to believe that a) you are not guaranteed success and b) your success as a leadership style was dependent of you ability to refine, adapt and apply your style of leadership to the situation.

Leaders should never forget that they will need to deploy their own weaker skills in a crisis. You cannot always rely on your team or that only your strengths will be called upon.

Simply a reminder to not only develop your strengths, but to also give time to developing those areas of your leadership that need work.

Staff meetings and remain a trap for the best of managers, whether at the departmental level but especially at school level. Meetings must have purpose and their regularity should not be dictated by a calendar which is commonly the thief of time, but by necessity. (Not a direct quote but very close).

I was unsure about this advice and I need to give it some more consideration. At every school I have worked a,t there has been a meeting schedule or calendar. Weekly, fortnightly meetings with dedicated time. I thought that this was a part of ‘being organised.’ In the same breadth, I am sure many of us have sat through unnecessary meetings thinking ‘you could have sent me this information and I could have read it?’ My initial thought is to really consider whether or not the meeting is essential and to try and give at least 24hrs notice of cancelling a meeting.

Successful leaders change their style from time to time in order that familiarity does not dull the perceptions. However, remain constant in your values and your habits.

This quote speaks for itself and I would subscribe to the message although I would also suggestion that the second sentence that is mission critical.

The best teachers take risks. How do you encourage your staff to take more risks. Encourage your staff and reassure your staff they will be supported.

Risk taking. I prefer to add ‘calculated’ to the phrase. Personally I like to take risks, and share those risks and associated concerns I have as a teacher, with the students I am working with. For example,

Today I am planning to teach how to design your  Multi-Media Product (Unit 4 ICT OCR Nationals) as a whole group activity, outside. (In my experience, ICT is rarely employ kinaesthetic learning and rarely outdoors). Now, I have planned this lesson thoroughly but I can not promise you it will work. It will need you guys and gals to be focused and creative, and to use your imagination, to make it work.

These ‘new’ and ‘experimental’ lessons may be risky, but I would expect the staff I lead to be at least somewhat confident that this risk will foster greater learning than if the teacher stuck with the tried and tested. Lets not forget that by adding just a few risky lessons, even if they fail, provides that the overall teaching model is more varied.

Seven Qualities for Leadership

(Written in part for @Stuartridout and the #Newleaders tag)

1. Be cheerful and optimistic.

Those who follow you need to feel the leader has seen the other side of the mountain, the need for vision.

2. Be welcoming and ready to be enthusiastic.

Genuine enthusiasm is infectious and more than a gift.

3. The ability to be a good listener. It is important that when you listen to people they have your undivided attention.

I admire the principle who would arrange to meet a difficult parent not in its own study and in the Year Head’s office and therefore implying that the Year Head and not the Principal was the person who had settled issue in question.

4. Have a considered view and practice towards time.

If a head / leader is always accessible, it is almost as bad as never being seen.

The orchestra will continue to play without the conductor, if only for a while.

5. Celebrate others and blame oneself.

Find something to celebrate in the school or departments past and avoid referring to past school or departments.

Take responsibility for errors that are not yours and hold in credit for the inevitable rainy day when forgiveness of those who are led is required.

6. The ability to manage change.

Fast enough to ensure change but not too fast to lead to uncertainty or panic.

7. Have a clear educational philosophy and set a personal example.

The final section of this post is a collection of leadership ideas. The final few sentences, quotations that I intend to combine with an image and upload to the Great quotes about Learning and Change Flickr group.

On occasion, act as supply cover, that way you will be able to investigate your department, review marking and get opinions back from students. (This connects to the articles on Channel 4s Undercover Boss – this is as close to undercover as you will get within your department or school. I wonder what the response would be from the students when the Headteachers showed up for a cover lesson? Powerful message? Updated 2/9/10)

After 6 months, ask new members of the staff to describe the three best and worse features of the school. Newcomers often see things differently to those accustomed to their surroundings.

New initiatives: People always judge new initiatives by a higher standard that they apply to what went before. It is their way of making too ambitious a claim for the proposed changes. Always call in a review period to fine tune the new arrangements.

Research has shown that leadership is most successful after three years only then do those being led know their leader.

Student work and displays on the walls and ceilings should lead to learning, if they don’t permit learning, the space can be used more wisely.

On occasion act as supply cover, that way you will be able to investigate your department, review marking and get opinions back from students.

After 6 months, ask new members of the staff to describe the three best and worse features of the school. Newcomers often see things differently to those accustomed to their surroundings.


Time management is crucial. It is doing things right and doing the right things.

The successful teacher always treats children as they may become rather than as they are now.


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