In research, looking at the tenure of 411

In 2016, Hill, Laker and Goddard produced a set of findings which caused a ripple of controversy through the world of education. They used a never before seen concept of comparing various headteacher leadership styles to everyday professions in the world. This essay will aim to explore how useful this concept is in shaping the future successful headteachers through supporting pieces of research and various critiques from other scholars. It will start by discovering what the findings actually show, and the positive impact this research could have on schools, it will then move onto issues within the methodology and issues within the research itself. Ultimately proving that the research lacks the fundamental methodology to provide any useful insights.

               Hill, Laker and Goddard embarked on seven years of research, looking at the tenure of 411 leaders across UK academies. They analysed their education, background and experience and recorded their actions and impact using 64 investment variables and 24 performance measures, to try and discover why the UK lagged behind other countries (in terms of education quality) despite investing more than them (Hill et al., 2016). The research identified five different leader-types, but postulates that only one type of leader can turn around a failing school. They branded each headteacher in the study into these five leadership styles; the first being a “Surgeon”, who focuses heavily on exam results but removing the poor performances and investing in the older students about to take their exams, most of these were originally PE / Religious Study teachers. The second is “Soilders” who typically were Information Technology or Chemistry teachers. They believe if the focus is on costs and deadlines, the rest will take care of itself so they cut resources (support staff, non-essential activities, use cheaper suppliers) to increase financial performance. The third is “Accountants” who are creative financers and build up monetary strength within schools through techniques such as acquiring primary schools. These tend to be ex-mathematic teachers. The fourth one is “Philosophers” who are passionate about teaching however “talk a good talk” about the merits of alternative education approaches but achieve no significant improvements during their tenure. These tended to be English or Language teachers. Hill et al found that all four of these were actually unsuccessful examples of leaders, who disadvantaged the school or made no change in the years following their tenure. The research found that the only useful style of leadership is “Architects” who tend to be History or Economic teachers that focus on resigning the school and transforming the community it serves. They take an overview of the school, its stake holders, the community and the role in society by combining the strongest parts and acquiring a primary school so they can influence their teachings from a young age. The school improves in terms of financially and exam results and they make a lasting difference once they have left the school.

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               There are endless areas of education that this research can positively influence, branded “ground-breaking” (Staufenberg, 2016) and “phenomenal” (Newsnight, 2016). upon its release. The Harvard Business Review article itself discusses ways in which this research could potentially have an impact on education in the UK. It cites that making architects 50% of all school leaders would increase the UK’s schools’ performance by 9.68% and its GDP by between £3.8 billion and £7.6 billion” (Hill et al., 2016). It further highlights a shocking gap in pay between the leadership styles who achieve short term success (Surgeons receiving on average £154,000) and those who supposedly transform the school for a long term impact (Architects receiving on average only £86,000). This is the same for recognition with 66% of Surgeons and 64% of Philosophers receiving Sir / Dames, CBEs, OBEs, MBEs or National Leader Awards, opposed to only 14% of Architects (Cook, 2016). This incites a key, overdue debate in the education world about whether the right individuals are receiving accommodations. The research is the first of its kind to tie leadership styles with school performances over a full-time period, reflecting on how the school operates once the leader has moved on (Staufenberg, 2017). However, a previous researcher has also compared being a strong headteacher to being an architect, discussing how architectures measure against the past, building in the present and imagining the future, as with a good headteacher (Blatchford, 2015), this adds some creditability the findings idea of an “Architect” leader. These can of comparisons can open the door to new leadership styles that headteachers should be adopting, and guide governing boards to selecting the right leader for their schools. Further research can be continued from this one, which may change the world of education itself and open the door to new government reforms.

               At first glance, this study reveals fantastic insight into what entails a strong, successful headteacher, perhaps providing a huge difference to schools and cutting costs in education for the government. However, when divulging deeper into the methodology behind the study, several key issues can be observed. To begin with, Hill, Laker and Goddard say they interviewed 411 leaders of academies, as well as those who work for them, analysed their education, background and experience and recorded their actions and impact using 64 investment variables and 24 performance values over seven years (Hill et al., 2016). But there is an overwhelming question as to what they did with all this data they say they collected without full academic papers explaining their methodology. Methodology is vital to any piece of research as it explains the complex path from a to b. Publishing methodology allows others to follow and comprehend, and possibly recreate the research. An unpublished methodology also makes it difficult to generalise and apply the findings without knowing how they selected the schools to use in the trials, which schools they selected, or what style of questioning they used on participants (George, 2016). Dr Hill had told the Harvard Business Review that the authors shared 20 pages of data before publication and the article had been peer reviewed. However, peer review itself has not been scientifically validated, with “reviewers often in disagreements about the merits of an article” (Balietti, 2016). The study’s findings have even been attempted to replicate by Dr. Rebecca Allen, however she found proven difficulties without a released methodology (Allen, 2017).

There are further issues around how clear and “perfect” the findings are, there is very clear clusters of the different types of head, this is very unusual in social science research (George, 2016). To discover the findings, Hill and Laker used clustering techniques and displayed the results in a neat cluster chart. Christian Bokhove, a maths educationalist from the University of Southampton questioned this saying “even if they used the clustering techniques correctly, its quite speculative to do that sort of stuff, and that worried me a little bit” (George, 2016). Dr. Hill responded to this by saying the typology of the heads arose “completely organically…almost too clear so we looked at it again, but that is actually how they were”, however without a published methodology it is very hard to judge whether this is true or not. Major players in the education industry have also publicly expressed their concerns regarding the lack of methodology in the study. Karen Wespieser, the head of impact at the National Foundation for Educational Research stated “it is worrying that headteachers and governors might make decisions based on the study when so little is known about how these conclusions have been reached” (Staufenberg, 2017).  Other figures have backed this up by expressing that research has to reach a high bar to inform public policy, without knowing how the different categories of leaders were generated it creates “an issue of research integrity” (George, 2016). Wespieser and many others have been calling for Hill and Laker to clarify the “detail of their sampling methodology, data collection approach or analysis techniques” (Staufenberg, 2017). Such strong statements of concern over the lack of a methodology from leading figures in the industry definitely highlight how much of an issue it is. It further adds to the puzzling reasons as to why Hill and Laker won’t produce their methodology, knowing that the impact the study could potentially have, there is much confusion as to why they wouldn’t just publish it.

               Say the researchers published a full methodology explaining the steps that cleared every method based concern, there are still key critiques to be made within the research itself. Hill and Laker entered the research world with a document that appeared to recommend schools “exclude poor quality students” (Staufenberg, 2017). This document was highly criticised and poorly worded causing the sector to be somewhat sceptical of their work ever since, however unreasonable this may be. The main critique of Hill and Lakers new research is it carries a “locked in” ideology. It presents people as a type of leader meaning “the typology assumes that the leaders are locked in to their behaviours, styles and cultures – and further locked in by the subjects they originally studied” (Cruddas, 2016). By assuming a person can only be identified as one leader type, it causes a simplistic, boxy way of looking at how a headteacher can be successful. It takes away the intricate and thoughtful decisions made by individual leaders in an attempt to “tame the abundance and complexity of leading a school” (Cruddas, 2016). In terms of identifying a correlation between the leader type and the subject they studied, it seems to provide little or no valuable information. The only conclusion that could seem to be gained from this is if “we advise governing boards to hire only those applicants for headship positions who studied history or economics” (Cruddas, 2016), however this is illogical and a bit ridiculous. There are also issues surrounding the vocabulary used to describe each leader type, such as “surgeon” or “philosopher”. Using other professions to describe the way a headteacher should do their own job adds confusion and pre-existing notations of what the leader type entails, “a philosopher headteacher sounds like an awful nightmare where Hobbes has been trusted to run a school” (Collinson, 2016). If different terms had been used, it would take out the pre-existing notions associated with the professions. The research also evaluates the three years after the headteacher leaves the school, it fails to account for external factors that may occur in those three years. These could be anything from a different style of leader taking over, the academics of the year group and the teaching staff.

               There are also outside factors that affect the role of a ‘head-teacher’ itself. In todays culture, governing boards feel pressure from Ofsted (school inspection service for the government) and the Regional School Commissioners (government officials) to reach a very high standard of service. This pressure is very clearly shown through the treatment of headteachers in today’s culture where one ofsted report can ruin a career. Even a single set of disappointing exam results – or sometimes just levelling off after years of fast improvement – puts a headteachers job on the line (Tickle, 2017). This can have terrible effects on headteachers future careers and mental health. Some heads described how they were given 24 hours to leave their offices, branding the situation “utterly life changing”, “brutal” and “I was a broken person, branded a failure” (Tickle, 2017). This obviously has clear effects on heads management styles, and often leads them to heavily focus on exam results, much like the “surgeon” leadership style. It leads to governing boards appointing Surgeon style leaders who can promise better grades and achieve them quickly (Cruddas, 2016) despite what the future consequences for the schools may be. It also leads to an issue of a lack of people wanting to become a head teacher due to a new thought process of “if I become a head teacher I might just be kicked out”. This may lead people to turn to teaching leadership positions for the wrong reasons (such as the money) or simply not enough people applying. There are new schemes in place today such as ‘Teach First’ to try and inspire graduates to go into teaching for the passion of learning and to help change lives. This scheme is a positive way in which future headteachers can be moulded and inspired to make a long-term difference in school, rather than a quick exam fix.

               In conclusion, Hill and Lakers research really does provide some valuable lessons about what style of leadership is working in today’s school, however there are far too many limitations within the methodology to overrule these. The article alone may be helpful as it has incited a fresh debate on school leadership, with previous academic research seldom inciting this kind of controversy. It has opened a door to the reasons why some headteachers are adopting a more intense grade focus management technique, and what can be done to protect the role of a headteacher from harsh scrutiny. The article itself may have been more helpful if it had taken a slightly different approach of suggesting specific steps and actions that leaders could take in their first 3 / 6 / 12 / 18 months into their tenure. These steps could make a real difference into leading headteachers into a more “architect” style approach, and consider the community and future prospects of the school alongside the grades and the budgets. 


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