Much has been written about effective educational leadership styles (Townsend 2011) and there appears to be no shortage of literature on this topic as a search shows on April 2014 there were 14,108 books relating to ‘educational leadership’ for sale on Amazon.co.uk.
Educational leadership is both dynamic and ever evolving (Bush and Coleman 2006; Avolio et al 2009). It encompasses a vast amount of literature yet still remains a relatively ambiguous topic due to vastly competing ideas about how educational leadership should be carried out (Storey 2004; Harris 2009; Avolio et al 2009; Richards 2012).
Burns (1978) produced a seminal work which distinguished between transactional and transformational leadership. Transactional leadership is the exchange of things in return for work with no incentive for a higher purpose. Transformational leadership is more concerned with trying to raise people to higher levels of motivation. Leithwood et al (1999, p 14) refer to the idea of ‘managerial leadership’ which they define as leadership focus being on ‘functions, tasks or behaviours’ This is where leadership is mainly about authority and influence based around hierarchical roles and closely related to transactional leadership styles. Transactional leadership can be defined as ‘management – attending to the routines and activities keep the school running smoothly on a day to day basis’ (Leithwood, 1994, p515). Transactional leadership is suitable to maintain things in the school with the headteacher at the very focus of leadership but it is not suitable for change (Storey 2004).
Mullen (2011) differentiated between transformational leaders as those who change their organisations through empowering subordinates to imagine and behave differently whereas transactional leaders work within situations which dictate their relationship to their followers. Therefore transformational leadership creates more commitment as opposed to control and it appears to lead to more change and commitment from colleagues and harnesses the extra effort needed to implement change (Leithwood 1994). Greater effectiveness is thought to be produced through transformational leadership (Geijsel et al 2003; Pounder 2006; Smith and Bell 2011). This may be because transformational leadership gives everyday tasks some meaning and purpose to middle leaders and this is important as schools that are more successful are those who can implement change (Fleming 2000).
Transformational Leadership is about placing an emphasis on engaging people in a shared vision for the school whereas transactional leadership can be defined as offering a reward or incentive in return for the achievement of goals (Bollington 2004). It stimulates the extra effort needed from people to bring about organisational change and transformational leaders have a much stronger relationship with subordinates than transactional leaders (Geijsel et al 2003). Therefore, the followers of transformational leaders are more likely to want to put in extra effort than followers of transactional leaders.
The current context in which United Kingdom schools are operating appears to be one of highly prescriptive external standards, accountability, a need to meet local community needs and to build on the capacity of educational professionals (Harris 2008a). During the mid 1980’s and 1990’s education was primarily about using resources efficiently, pupil performance, target setting, and accountability of schools to stakeholders (Day et al 2000). The focus on these areas does not appear to have changed considerably since then (Conservative Party Policies for Schools 2013)
In this context, single leaders cannot serve schools without the help and support of others. Schools are experimenting with sharing and collaboration in a bid to move away from heroic leadership models where the headteacher provides all, if not most, of the leadership. Lambert (2002) makes a key point in that a headteacher who tries to do everything alone will make people dependent on him/her. The more adept the head is at problem solving then the weaker the school becomes. Despite this, collaboration requires new skills and understanding and it is far easier to tell and manage colleagues than it is to be a collaborative leader (Harris and Lambert 2003).
Schools can present challenges to new ways of working. They can be inflexible with cultures resistant to adopt new ways of doing things. Culture shifts may include moving away from hierarchical, top-down leadership styles and the idea leadership resides in one person or senior leaders (Harris 2008b).
There are other arguments offered as to why the single leader model has had its day (Spillane and Diamond 2007). There are not enough such leaders to meet the demands of running schools today and not enough hours for the headteacher alone to carry out all these tasks (Timperley 2005). When the leader moves on then the practice deteriorates as the leader who initiated it is no longer there (Copland 2003). Spillane (2006) argues there has been much written about structures, routines and roles but little about how leaders actually carry out leadership and claims leadership is a collective not individual endeavour.
Middle leaders are attracting more attention. In 1996 using the mantra ‘Education, Education, Education’ Tony Blair’s government envisioned education to be more about attaining excellence through strategies and government generated programmes such as literacy and numeracy. In 2000 the Blair Government established and championed a new National College for School Leadership (NCSL) based in Nottingham to further enhance and develop excellence at both senior and middle leadership levels in schools in the United Kingdom. Now the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL), it continues to develop training based on leadership at the centre of renewal and change in a drive to assist school improvement via focusing on leadership at all levels within schools.
Since the establishment of the NCSL, middle leaders have attracted the renewed attention of policy particularly those who are interested in the area of school improvement and effectiveness (Hallinger and Heck, 2003; Harris 2004; Day 2011). Middle leaders are essential for their work in the effective operation of schools (Bush 2002). Beatty and Brew (2004) state leadership programmes now are based around effective collaborative relationships and trust.
Collegial models are particularly relevant now as a reliance on rational managerial based leadership is no longer sufficient to lead schools forward into the twenty-first century and there is an agreement collegial leadership is a model which has been accepted as a key to school development (Brundrett et al 2003). Senior leadership teams may have to explore less structurally hierarchical ways and consider sharing leadership amongst middle leaders as opposed to retaining control and authority at solely senior leadership level (Leithwood et al 1999).
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