Author: Alex Wood

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Tuesday, June 8th, 2010 at 12:30 pm
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Norman Drummond – a Flying Start

Norman Drummond’s appointment to Edinburgh University’s visiting chair of Educational leadership poses two questions: why do professorships of educational leadership exist and why has Norman Drummond been appointed to one?

There has been a recent consensus, along with parental choice and league tables, that it is leadership that explains why some schools were ‘better’ than others.  In England there developed the National College of School Leadership.  In Scotland, the Scottish Qualification for Headship was introduced.  When Scottish schools were inspected one of the headings was management and leadership.

In the US, dissatisfaction with the public school system resulted in an increased interest in an educational voucher system, and has spawned an increased interest in the subject of educational leadership.  Mike Russell, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Education recently put it simply: “The key to improving the quality of teaching is to improve the quality of educational leaders.”

More recent thinkers look beyond the peak of the school pyramid.  They argue for ‘distributed leadership’, where the measure of success is the extent to which everyone within a school takes on leadership tasks.  Bill Maxwell, Scotland’s Senior Chief Inspector of Education was blunt. “Distributed leadership is the precondition for strong teamwork.  The role of headteachers is to empower every member of staff to pursue leadership roles.”

Even those supporting a distributive leadership model, however, focus particularly on ways in which leadership can contribute to school development and change.  Educational leadership is seen as the key to better schools.

Against this background Norman Drummond offers a somewaht different perspective.  “At a time when the rather depressing emphasis throughout education has been on ‘valuing targets’, Columba 1400 seeks to encourage Heads, Staff and Pupils to ‘target values’.”

He questions our system, dominated as it is by rules and procedures.

“Deep down in the heart of the genuine educator is the desire to see the inner greatness, the true all-round potential, of each and every child and no amount of process and bureaucracy, however unthinkingly and often unnecessarily required by Government both local and national, can have the wisdom and magic of the one on one and one by one elicitation of greatness on our shared journeys through life.”

Road Testing the Vocation
Drummond’s perspective starts from his experiences as a minister.  He sought to road-test his vocation in Easterhouse in Glasgow where he came across Bill Christman and together they bought a disused Church in Forglen by Turriff in Aberdeenshire.

“We regularly took groups of young gang boys for their first ever holidays – the first opportunity for them to pause and reflect on the journeys of their lives.  It soon became clear to me that these young men were every bit as bright and talented and ethical as many of my Cambridge and Edinburgh Graduate friends.   A seed was sown in my heart then in covenanting with myself that one day I would do my best to in some way address and redress those ongoing disadvantages.“

Personal Ethics
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Drummond starts from a personal ethical choice, suggesting that the driving force for teachers should be an ‘altruistic delivery for other people’s children’.  He wants to see schools transformed but the first element of transformational change which he advocates is personal.

At a time of great change in Scottish schools, Drummond suggests that educational leaders equiped for the future require three things.  Firstly he advocates awareness, a move to cooperative working but working together while seeing and respecting each other as individuals.  Secondly, he suggests that leaders require to have an explicit permission to live with and not be brought down for their mistakes.  Thirdly, and perhaps most crucially, leaders require integrity, courage and open-heartedness.

Drummond’s leadership model applies to formal school leaders but also to teachers and to pupils, to anyone who contributes to their school, community or world.  It acknowledges the huge enormous efforts made by countless teachers.

“Thank goodness that these heroes and heroines exist within our schools and are being more and more recognised.  We can only hope that the academic deliberators in education will begin to gradually desist from overloading and over-burdening these brilliant influencers with statistical surveys and endless form-filling which, apart from being seemingly pointless and exhausting, diminishes available face to face time with children.”

Curriculum for Excellence, a new model, based on active learning and prioritising young people ‘s engagement  in their own learning has developed.

Drummond comments: “Small wonder that in the intervening years and at the request of the huge majority of the teaching profession, Curriculum for Excellence has such a broad and welcome aim to enable all young people to become successful learners and confident individuals – not merely within education but also effective contributors and responsible citizens within life.

“Whatever the snagging points of timing and resources towards curricular delivery, do we not on occasions have to remind ourselves that there is no such thing as perfection in life – merely the constant desire to learn from our experiences and to build upon them for the common good.”

Norman Drummond’s appointment will be widely applauded.  He welcomes change but does not seek an unobtainable perfection.  He acknowledges the human and intellectual value of the too-often derided teaching profession.  He puts questions of right and wrong, of courage and integrity back on the educational agenda.  He questions the weight of bureaucratic procedures.

A flying start!

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We have a review of Norman Drummond’s book The Power of Three here.

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