Andy Buck: Why Leadership Matters

Andy Buck introduces his new book Leadership Matters, published June 15th.  

When I started teaching geography in a north London comprehensive school back in 1987, I was passionate about my subject. I had been in training for a year at the Institute of Education in London and had learnt a huge amount from my inspirational tutors, Frances Slater and David Lambert. I loved the pupils in my school and I loved my job. But even then, I knew how my own success depended upon others around me.

There were times when I needed to draw on more experienced colleagues in the school when dealing with difficult pupils. If our pupils were to have a coherent and challenging educational experience that enabled them to achieve great things, there needed to be proper planning and organisation of the curriculum as a whole. If I was to continue to grow and develop as a teacher, I needed the chance to work with others in a productive and focused way that enabled me to reflect on my practice and improve. In other words, even then, I knew that I needed to be working as part of a well-orchestrated team: that leadership mattered.

These days, of course, it is pretty widely accepted that second to the quality of teaching itself, the single thing that makes the biggest difference to outcomes for pupils is leadership. So this book isn’t about why leadership in schools matters. It is about what great leadership looks like at all levels, both within schools and beyond them. It unashamedly aims to cover leadership in a huge range of contexts. As a school leader reading this, you may be at the beginning of your own leadership journey, taking your very first steps into middle leadership. You may be a senior leader or the head of a school. You may even be a system leader with a role working across more than one school, leading a federation or an alliance of schools.

From my experience, whilst the focus of your work as leader will undoubtedly shift according to your role, many of the key elements of great leadership are present at every level, regardless of your experience or sphere of influence. All that differs is your context. To say otherwise, in my view, is to over-complicate the issue. Great leadership is the same, however senior you happen to be. What matters most is how you apply that understanding of your situation to be able to focus your leadership actions and approach to suit your context.

For example, a brand new head of English or leader of literacy across a school needs to quickly assess the capacity of the teachers delivering this important curriculum area before deciding what the team needs to do next as well as how, as a leader, they should approach making this change happen. If capacity and expertise is low, the right approach may very well be pretty directive. On the other hand, if the team is pretty experienced and highly competent, such an approach is likely to backfire. This is no different from a head taking over a new school working out what the strategic priorities need to be over the next 3-5 years and how best to implement them. The only difference is the scale.

So the approach of this book is to take an evidence-based look at what great school leadership looks like and allow you to translate this into the context you are working in. My own experience has shown me the power of this approach, particularly in recent years, where my work has given me a privileged insight into hundreds of schools. Where a school or group of schools see the value of leaders collaborating together, with a shared set of values, goals and ways of working, there is no limit on the outcomes for pupils, so long as leaders can take their agreed shared approaches and modify them to suit their situation.

In thinking about what makes a great school, I have drawn heavily on my learning from the time I was leading the London Challenge Good to Great (G2G) programme. This books aims to synthesise that learning with my knowledge and experience of school leadership more generally, drawing on examples from the schools I have worked in and had the pleasure to work alongside over the last 30 years. It aims to break down this learning into discrete, easily digestible chunks. For each area, I will map out the opportunities and challenges you may well be facing right now in your current role, providing you with useful theory and background to help you bring out the best in you and those around you.

Andy Buck is a former Headteacher and National Leader of Education, and was responsible for setting up the government’s flagship Teaching Schools programme. In 2012, he was appointed as Managing Director for Academies at United Learning. He went on to establish Leadership Matters, an organisation that focuses on providing strategic advice on educational leadership as well as practical input through executive coaching, leadership team development programmes and training.

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  1. gov2

    ‘Teaching Schools’ – aren’t they the things other schools are supposed to send their staff to for training only to find that it’s money down the drain as course attendees know more than those doing the ‘teaching’?

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