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Some principles for school managers
Derek Gillard
March 1988

copyright Derek Gillard 2003
This article is my copyright. You are welcome to download it and print it for your own personal use, or for use in a school or other educational establishment, provided my name as the author is attached. But you may not publish it, upload it onto any other website, or sell it, without my permission.

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Gillard D (1988) Some principles for school managers

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ABSTRACT In this article I draw on my own experience to suggest seven basic principles which should underpin a successful school headship.

For the purposes of this essay I shall take the 'school manager' to mean the head teacher, despite the warning from Handy and Aitken that schools should avoid the word 'manager' because in his opinion it combines and confuses the two different requirements of leadership and administration: 'role ambiguity is a major cause of stress' (Handy and Aitken 1986:42). This notwithstanding, I contend that the head teacher is a manager. This is not to say that others - senior members of staff, governors, certain local education authority staff - do not have a claim to the title, too, but I shall draw heavily on my own experience as head of a relatively small school (present roll 290) in which I am very much 'the manager'. (I even received an envelope of advertising material recently addressed to 'The Managing Director' - a sign of things to come, perhaps?)

The principles of management, then, which I have found useful during the past three years (and which are, I think, generally agreed to be useful) are:

1 You must have a vision

The school manager needs a clear vision of what s/he wants the institution to be. Or, as HMI put it, in good schools 'the heads have qualities of imagination and vision, tempered by realism' (HMI 1977:36).

Most important is the ethos which will prevail. This will involve the quality of relationships and the values to be promoted, for management is concerned with values, not just action. 'Management implies not only some mechanism by which intentions can be realised, but also a basis for the value judgements by which intentions can be determined' (Holt 1987:1). Or, as Everard and Morris put it:

the important task for the educational institution is the reconciliation of value systems so as to achieve a clear statement of aims and beliefs to which a large majority of the stakeholders can subscribe and to which they feel commitment (Everard and Morris 1985:142).
The quality of relationships is fundamental: between pupils, between staff and pupils, between members of staff, and between members of the school and its 'stakeholders' - parents, governors and the wider community. Will there be a high level of pastoral care? Will equality of opportunity be striven for? How will ancillary staff be treated - as second class citizens, or as valued members of the school community? Will parents always be welcome in the school? How will the curriculum (both formal and 'hidden') reflect the values which the institution is seeking to promote? What will the style of management be - will it be 'reasonable, minimal, flexible and subtle' as Brooksbank and Ackstine (1984:241) suggest it should be?

Having developed a vision of the type of institution for which one is working, the next step is to decide on broad aims and then more detailed goals and objectives which will achieve those aims. This brings me to my second principle:

2 You must start from where people are

The management of change is one of the most important (and difficult) aspects of management, especially in schools, because, as Pam Young (1985:185) points out, schools 'are expected not only to be the means of achieving social change, but also have to cope with the integration of both stability and change, notably in curricular matters.'

Heads have always had to cope with the management of change. 'Heads must accept that the effective management of change is one of their most important tasks' (Stoner 1986:51). This task is becoming ever more onerous, as Hall, Mackay and Morgan (1983) have pointed out:

The significant change has been in the expectations of a growing number of groups of what the role should encompass and how it should be performed ... the sheer quantity of tasks ... and their multi-dimensional quality (quoted in Stoner 1986:55).
It is therefore vital to find out where people are - by talking and by looking at what actually goes on in the classrooms, the playground, the corridors and the staffroom. Having established where people are, one can then begin to move forward - not too fast at first, especially if extensive changes are to be made. 'The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time' (Everard and Morris 1985:172). Policies must be agreed which will, hopefully, work towards the chosen goals and objectives and so realise the overall aims of the school. Perhaps the most important word in that last sentence is 'agreed', and that leads me on to my next principle:

3 You must establish ownership of policies

Policies are worth no more than the paper they are printed on unless they are 'owned' by the staff. 'Warnock has prescribed integration ... as we need to feel included in, and committed to, the process of achieving [a] goal' (Lewis 1985:142). Policies must therefore be discussed and argued about and eventually agreed to if they are to stand any chance of being put into practice. This process can - and often, in a small school, should - involve the whole staff. But it will sometimes be helpful from a practical point of view to have a smaller working party drawing up documents for subsequent discussion and approval by the whole staff. This process will be invaluable for another reason too - the creation of teams.

4 You must facilitate the creation of teams

Teams are a vital ingredient in a successfully managed staff. They encourage the taking of responsibility, they facilitate staff development, they stimulate innovation and assist with the 'owning' of policies. All this is vital, for, as the COPED Research Project showed, 'a school's educational effectiveness [is] associated with the morale of the staff, the power structure, the problem-solving process and the degree of trust among colleagues' (Lewis 1985:139). Of course, teams will achieve these invaluable ends only if they are carefully constructed. A team led by an 'empire-builder' or someone actively opposed to the ideas of the manager will obviously be counter-productive, so great care must be taken in team building.

Having established teams to devise and agree policies which will support the overall aims of the school, the next stage will be to implement these policies. This will require careful and appropriate management of resources - human, physical and financial. My next principle, therefore, is:

5 Your most important resource is your staff

'People matter as well as policies' (Fullan and Pomfret 1977 quoted in Holt 1987:7). Motivation is a key function of the effective manager: 'Management's principle job is to get the herd heading roughly west' (Peters and Waterman 1982:115). It is essential, therefore, to agree sound policies for recruiting, selecting, developing and appraising staff, and to implement them effectively. However, if s/he is not to be quickly disillusioned, it is important for the manager to accept that

the vagaries of human nature, our urges and inclinations, our defences and fears, our reactions to other people and to authority, all combine to make dealing with people the most puzzling and difficult thing to do in life (Handy and Aitken 1986:47).
Despite this, it is vital that the head trusts his/her staff and is prepared to share power with them. 'Though ready to take final responsibility, they have made power-sharing the keynote of their organisation and administration' (HMI 1977:36).

6 You must manage yourself

It is, of course, important to remember that the manager him/herself is also a member of the staff team - some would argue that, as leader, s/he is the most important member - so the ability to manage oneself is crucial. What style of leadership should one adopt?

A leader is best when people barely know that he exists; not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worst when they despise him. Fail to honour people, they fail to honour you. But of a good leader who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say, 'We did this ourselves' (Lao-Tzu 6th Century BC quoted in Adair 1983:106).
There are many attributes of a good leader but trust is an important one, as British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan noted: 'I have often found that a man who trusts nobody is apt to the the kind of man that nobody trusts' (quoted in Adair 1983:11).

There are many books and schools of thought on managing oneself and the school manager would do well to read some of them - even those which are concerned with management of industry rather than with school management - for there is a great deal of similarity in the roles, despite Harry Gray's pessimistic comment that 'nothing is actually achieved by teaching management skills, schools just go on as they always have' (Gray 1984 quoted in Everard and Morris 1985:xi).

Time is an important factor to be managed. Everard and Morris (1985:7) suggest that 'the only way to overcome the time barrier may be to set clearly defined action deadlines.' They also recommend that the manager must set aside sufficient time for him/herself - thinking time. 'Thinking is one of the most positive uses of time' (Everard and Morris 1985:90). Delegation, too, is a skill which has to be learned if time is to be efficiently managed. 'It is very easy to be very busy doing the wrong thing' (Everard and Morris 1985:90).

7 You must be able to take an overview of the school

Perhaps the one skill which the manager must have, which s/he cannot necessarily expect his/her subordinates to possess, is the ability to take an overview. Departmental heads or year group heads will, naturally, have the interests of their department or year at heart. It is only the head teacher as school manager who is in a position to take an overview of the whole school and so balance the competing claims of the various sections or groups within it. Everard and Morris (1985:7) describe this as a 'helicopter quality' - 'the ability to take the broader view of one's activities and to see them in context.'

One of the skills necessary here is that of objective evaluation - the ability to stand back and assess what is actually going on and being achieved, measuring this against the aims and objectives which the institution has set itself and making decisions to improve this performance where necessary. 'Evaluation is part of the management of effective schools' (Young 1985:187).

These seven basic principles for school managers could perhaps be summed up in Handy's suggestion that heads should 'care, share and dare,' or, in the words of the old prayer: 'Lord, give me the grace to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.'


Adair J (1983) Effective leadership: a modern guide to developing leadership skills London: Pan Books

Brooksbank K and Ackstine AE (1984) Educational administration Harlow: Councils and Education Press

Everard KB and Morris G (1985) Effective school management London: Harper and Row

Fullan M and Pomfret A (1977) 'Research on curriculum and instructional implementation' Review of Education Research winter

Gray HL (1984) Contributions 6, 1, Centre for the Study of Comprehensive Schools: University of York

Hall, Mackay and Morgan (1983) 'Defining headship: an impossible task' SHA Review July

Handy C and Aitken R (1986) Understanding schools as organisations Harmondsworth: Penguin Books

HMI (1977) Ten Good Schools: a secondary school enquiry (Matters for Discussion 1) London: HMSO

Holt M (1987) Judgement, planning and educational change London: Harper and Row

Lewis J (1985) 'The theoretical underpinnings of school change strategies' in D Reynolds (ed) (1985) Studying school effectiveness London: The Falmer Press 137-153

Peters TJ and Waterman RH (1982) In search of excellence: lessons from America's best-run companies New York: Harper and Row

Stoner F (1986) 'Managing the school: the role of the head teacher at a time of rapid change' in C Day and R Moore (eds) (1986) Staff development in the secondary school London: Croom Helm 51-71

Young P (1985) 'Schools make a difference: implications for management in education' in D Reynolds (ed) (1985) Studying school effectiveness London: The Falmer Press 177-190

This article is a modified version of an essay submitted in March 1988 as part of my Diploma in Education course at the University of London Institute of Education.