Leadership

Politics, Deceit and the Headteacher

To mark the 81st birthday of one of School Leadership Today’s most illustrious contributors we are publishing one of Professor David Hellawell’s articles that was first published in 1997. It went on to feature in his best-selling book Managing in The Education Madhouse. It’s surprising how little has actually changed!
Man hding crossed fingers as he shakes a hand

In recent conversations with headteachers, I have been struck by the feeling of so many of them that one of the most fundamental changes in their role in recent years is the way they have been increasingly propelled into the political arena. This is not to deny that heads have always had to be politicians, to some extent. If politics is taken to be the art of reaching decisions about contested values, then it is clear that heads, like all other managers, were always politicians by definition. The changes seem to be that not only are values more contested in the pluralist societies which most developed countries have now become, but crucially that the LEA (Local Education Authority) buffer between heads and the communities outside schools has diminished, if not disappeared, in some respects in recent years. Issues which heads could, in the past, refer to their LEAs, or at least declare to be the concern of the LEA rather than themselves, are reducing in number as the local management of schools (LMS) gathers pace, and as ‘opting out’ and ‘site-based management’ become more general. Decisions which, in the past, might have been the province of locally elected politicians and their officers in the LEAs are now firmly in the laps of school governors and their chief officer is the headteacher. In many schools, the governors have de facto delegated most of these ‘political’ decisions to the headteachers. 

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