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Are aspiring school leaders well prepared for their challenging role?

This is the question which many education systems are asking as they consider the school leader’s role in managing more and more decision-making processes in increasingly decentralised education systems globally.

For instance, the Australian Institute For Teaching And School Leadership  makes FIVE recommendations for preparing future leaders.

  1. Take a systematic, standards-based and coherent approachTo be effective, principal preparation must be systematic and coherent, based on clearly articulated professional standards.
  2. Identify and nurture talentIn the best approaches to principal preparation, potential leaders are identified early in their careers and given a range of opportunities to develop their leadership skills.
  3. Match learning to an individual’s capabilities, career stage and contextPathways to advancement should be clear, with professional learning appropriate to each level explicit, well understood and sustained after the individual’s appointment.
  4. Use evidence-based adult learning techniquesHighly effective preparation programs reflect an understanding of a range of adult learning techniques that have been shown to be effective and provide a diversity of experiences over time.
  5. Evaluate programs for impactIt is critical to engage in rigorous evaluation for purposes of accountability and improvement.

The overwhelming impression we arrive at when looking at these recommendations is that the preparation of school leaders must never be taken for granted. If in the past, we might have believed that ‘leaders are born’, now we must look at the evidence which shows that, while personality and aptitude still have a place in being a leader, leadership requires on-going education to adapt to the many challenges a modern school faces in the 21st century.

What does it mean to be an educational leader?

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”.
John F. Kennedy

“You can’t lead anyone if you can’t lead yourself!”
Maxine Driscoll

“As we look at the 21st century, leaders will be those who empower others”.
Bill Gates

Subscribe to McKinsey & Company

We’re always on the look out for great research that informs us about what works well in education. McKinsey & Company are generous in making many, many reports available for anyone to access on their website. Take, for instance,

Capturing the leadership premium: How the world’s top school systems are building leadership capacity for the future (2010)

This report summarises findings from the International Review of School Leadership, undertaken by McKinsey & Company in collaboration with the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services during 2010…The work includes a literature review, almost 70 interviews with experts, policymakers, and leaders of school systems, and a survey of 1,850 leaders in eight countries. The survey includs three groups of leaders: middle-tier leaders (district or local authority), high performing school leaders, and randomly selected school leaders.

A key conclusion of the report is that there is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates the impact of effective school leadership.

This evidence is consistent across a large number of countries and contexts, and demonstrates that “school leadership is second only to classroom teaching as an influence on pupil learning.”

One of the studies used is James Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree: a personal journey into how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves.  As the professor of education policy at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne,, Tooley’s research crucially shows how in low-cost private schools in India, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and other countries depend on a determined and accountable school leader, even more than other school inputs or context, for students to flourish.

Look Up The Innovation Unit

The Innovation Unit is a UK not-for-profit social enterprise with the stated aim of “using innovation to create different, better, lower cost public services that better meet social challenges”. They are a social enterprise that works globally.

Innovation Unit is particularly focused on defining 21st-century learning. In their report 10 schools for the 21st centuryIts rationale for focusing on contemporary challenges is stated in the introduction in the following terms.

When today’s students graduate they will be competing globally for their jobs. This has had a dramatic effect on the kinds of skills in demand. Manual work and routine task input have declined, with many of these becoming automated. In contrast, the need for people that can perform tasks that are non-routine and analytical or interactive has soared. Businesses are demanding so-called ‘higher-order’ skills such as analysing, evaluating and synthesising information, problem solving and social and emotional skills. This will become more pressing – not only for businesses, but for entire societies. If we are to develop candidates who are capable of holding their own on a global stage we simply must get better at nurturing these skills. Both collectively and individually we are heading for an uncertain future. The world is changing quickly and education must change with it. Here we showcase a collection of schools that are rising to the challenge. We think we can learn from all of them.

The implications of these truths on school leaders we believe are profound. Together with their staff, all principals, associate principals and heads of faculties must put into action a way of responding to the need for their students to survive globally as well as locally.

One way the Innovation Unit has itself responded to the challenge is to form the Global Education Leaders’ Partnership (GELP).

If you haven’t come across it yet, may we recommend that you look at GELP which is framed as “a community of key education system leaders, policy-makers, thought-leaders and world-class consultants collaborating to transform education at local, national and international levels. The aim of these transformations is to equip every learner with the skills, expertise and knowledge to survive and thrive in the 21st century”. A great cause, we think!

Ral is Executive Director of Insight Africa UK a company registered in England and Wales to provide Educational Services. She holds a Masters degree from University of Leeds UK and University of Nigeria Nsukka. She also works part time with a City Council in the UK Our Aim: Every Child in Learning, Every School Outstanding Every Teacher Achieving

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