Nearly all failing schools fit this description (Six Secrets of School Success 2000)." If a country is to overcome educational problems, they must take into account the mentality that poverty creates and how that mentality deteriorates the wherewithal to do well in school.
Although poverty is the issue that affects most underachieving schools, the idea of the super head was conceived as the answer to poorly performing schools. According to Marshall (2001), recruiting exceptional headmasters to improve schools was begun with what was once known as the Hammersmith County School (Marshall, 2001). The local authority school was located in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (Marshall, 2001). The neighboring schools were grant maintained and church schools (Marshall, 2001). The Hammersmith School was being closed because of poor results and OFSTED reports (Marshall, 2001). However, instead of closing the school the administration decided to reopen it and called it the Phoenix School (Marshall, 2001).
To improve the performance of the school they opted to bring in a headmaster that had been proven as an effective administrator (Marshall, 2001).
The head chosen for this position was Willie Atkinson (Marshall, 2001).
Willie Atkinson has served on several Labour Party advisory committees and has argued that having an exceptional headmaster is essential to improving failing schools (Marshall, 2001). However, the impact of his presence on the Phoenix school does not provide evidence for his argument (Marshall, 2001). The article reports that Since he took over, results at Phoenix high have never reached the levels achieved before his appointment. In 1999 only 3 per cent of pupils gained five A*-C grades at GCSE. To compare the results of this school with those of the London Oratory, where over 90 per cent of the boys achieved five A*-C grades at GCSE, as the very form of the league tables suggest we must, was and is a nonsense. Whichever way the evidence is sliced, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that the biggest single factor in explaining the disparity in performance, be it of an individual school or a local authority, is the level of social deprivation of the community it serves (Marshall, 2001)."
Although Atkinson has not proven that headmasters are essential to improving failing schools, the Labour Party has instituted a policy of using super heads to improve the conditions of the nation's schools (Marshall, 2001). The next few paragraphs will discuss this initiative and other initiatives created by the Labour party (Marshall, 2001).
The Labour Party and Education Initiatives
The need for reform at educational institutions is nothing new and is usually required as a society changes and grows. According to a book entitled Managing Colleges and Universities: Issues for Leadership there are two main views that pervade educational reform. "The first is that confrontation with change and its companions, contradiction and ambiguity, is endemic to management (Quinn 1991). The second view is that the significance of change is socially constructed, invented, or fabricated by managers and organizational participants and based upon preexisting interpretations and understandings of organization (Hoffman et al., 2000)." However, the authors assert that because there is often no consensus on the understanding of organizational behavior reform may bring about conflicting values and opinions. Thus is the case with the labour party's handling of education reform in the United Kingdom.
The party has founded various initiatives in an effort to improve the quality of education available at the nation's schools. The people of the United Kingdom have expressed their dismay at the state of affairs as it relates to the education system. The Labour Party has promised to fix poor performing schools and provide equal education opportunities for all students.
According to the official website of the Labour Party, education is at the forefront of the party's policies to initiate change in Britain (Education 2004). The party asserts that the mission to reform the educational structure in Britain begins at the nursery school level with free part time nursery care for three and four-year-old children (Education 2004). Additionally, since the labour party came to power in 1997 there has been a marked change in the educational system (Education 2004). The party's website reports that there have been drastic improvements in the quality of education at the primary level, increases in the number of teachers and teaching assistants (Education 2004). The Labour party has also made a commitment to refurbish all secondary schools in the next 15 years (Education 2004). In addition, the Labour party also pledges to increase spending per pupil and ensure that eventually half of all young people will receive a University education (Education 2004).
In addition to the aforementioned initiatives, the Labour party began an initiative known as superheadism. The BBC reports that under this initiative the finest secondary head teachers became "chief executives" and assigned to underperforming schools. Through this initiative, the "super heads" were responsible for overseeing the underperforming schools and improving the educational environment at the school (Mixed feelings from 'super heads', 2002). The BBC explains that the initiative is designed to bring all schools up to certain standards (Mixed feelings from 'super heads', 2002). The article asserts that using super heads to accomplish this goal is essential to the improvement of the nation's schools. The super heads have the expertise and the knowledge to bring the schools up to par (Mixed feelings from 'super heads', 2002). Additionally under the initiative,
These head teachers would take charge of 300 "advanced specialist" schools - which would be created alongside a higher target of 2,000 specialist schools by 2006. Moreover, head teachers who underachieved would lose their jobs. This tough approach would be backed by the carrot and stick of funding. A £125,000 per year "leadership incentive grant," aimed at 1,400 inner-city schools, would only go directly to those schools with effective heads (Top heads to be 'chief executives', 2002).
This initiative has been met with both optimism and disgust. Some are optimistic because they believe that employing super heads to "straighten out" underperforming schools will be the cure all for the fledging education system. The optimists seem to believe that the main reason for the underachievement of students is school management. They contend that by placing a "super head" in these schools, they will in effect eliminate poor school performance.
On the other hand, Many experts in the field of education believe that this initiative is an attempt to quickly solve a problem that took years to create. They assert that this type of program cannot be maintained over time because of the cost to human capital. In addition, many parents at high achieving schools believe that the quality of education at those schools will decrease because their heads will be concentrated on improving the performance of other schools.
Another major initiative to monitor the progress made in schools is known as Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED), which was designed to monitor teacher training (Bell, 1999).
Bell (1999) explains teacher training is increasingly informed by a technical rationality based on a preoccupation with means and outputs rather than with purpose. Quality and efficiency are the dominant modes of discourse. Thus, to focus all teacher training on the improvement of classroom teaching and pupil learning with the intention of achieving specific and limited educational outcomes is to move towards post-Fordist teacher training which perpetuates the myth that teaching is a mechanistic process. This is reinforced by the frequency and nature of OFSTED inspections. These are intended to inspect quality in ITT by concentrating on making judgements about the quality of training by measuring outcomes against predetermined criteria (Bell, 1999)."
Another article found in the New Statesman found states that other initiatives include education action zones, specialist schools, beacon schools, and Fresh Start schools. The fresh start initiative was discussed previously in this paper and involves "closing a school and then reopening it under new management and a new name (and probably new teachers, since the old staff have to reapply for their own jobs) (Six Secrets of School Success 2000)."
As was stated previously the Fresh Start programs used the expertise of super heads to bring about improvements. Failing secondary schools were often threatened with being replaced by a fresh start school if they did not improve (Six Secrets of School Success 2000). However, the article reports that "the superheads" of three of the ten schools previously given this treatment (the policy was launched in 1997) had resigned. The three superheads-- two running the schools with fancy names in Islington and Brighton, the third in Newcastle -- had decided, after wrestling against overwhelming odds for periods of between six and 18 months here on Earth that they would be better off on Planet Zog (Six Secrets of School Success 2000)."
Another type of initiative that was launched by the…