Those who assume responsibility for our schools seem more comfortable with words like “standards”, “efficiency” and “tradition” than “innovation”, “creativity” and “risk”. And like a dog with a bone, how we seem to gnaw and salivate over those examination grades! It is surely difficult to find schools willing to invest in ventures, however wholesome, that are not directly perceived to be advantageous to the core business of education.
But just what is it? At times it seems to be all smoke and mirrors – the skilful use of data and statistics overlaid with a finely polished veneer of tradition. In such a climate, how much opportunity for genuine leadership exists within our educational infrastructures?
Most institutions, when not counting pennies, appear to be constrained by government decrees and benchmarks, university admissions procedures and Boards of Governors who tend to be conservative by nature, committed to, if not consumed by, a passion for the status quo and tradition.
Furthermore, in a competitive world, accountability to the market must be of paramount importance, and the market, for the most part, consists of anxious parents who have little option other than to pin their faith and hopes upon scores and results – the worldwide currency-base of educational worth. And despite all our assurances that this is not necessarily the case, many parents are still inclined to believe that their children will only have one shot at this thing called academic success and, consequently, the benefits that such success will bring.
Schools, then, are market-driven, despite all our pious noises they would not seem to be laboratories of learning; in such a market the “good” schools would appear to deliver against both the mandated as well as the popularly perceived criteria – they meet, perhaps even exceed expectations, rather than drive and determine them.
Despite my apparent weary cynicism, however, I believe that there are many positive signs. The more recent emphasis placed upon values-based education, promoted in large part by the growth and development of international schools and concepts of internationalism, has finally projected what was once termed the “hidden curriculum” out into the open.
Leadership is not about efficiency and good management (although these are essential prerequisites of a good school), it is about values and the projection of those values upon the consciousness of others. In some cases this will manifest itself in a unique approach to curriculum delivery, but most often, I would suggest, it requires a creative response to the context in which a school finds itself.
– Neil Richards
Neil Richards is the Headmaster at British International School, Phuket – BISP. For more information, visit them at www. bisphuket.ac.th