Co-ordinating subjects in the primary school : perceptions of subject leaders, their implementation of the role and the influence of external factors.
The roots of Primary Education are found within broadly progressive ideologies. These
philosophies have become subject to challenge with attempts to apply business
management models to schools. Ideals of education for an economic role led to the
development of the Education Reform Act (1988) which established a number of
provisions, radically altering the management of schools. These requirements promoted
greater school based management emphasising teachers' autonomy and the
development of collaborative working patterns. Paradoxically this was within a
framework that reduced schools control over the curriculum, and represented a
considerable move in government policy and an alteration in the context of planning and
implementation, thereby creating a tension.
A major thrust of re-organisation in primary schools has been to encourage them to
deploy staff in order to make best use of available subject expertise. The introduction of
a National Curriculum, more formalised inspection procedures and standard attainment
tests have raised school accountability and the necessity of developing pupils subject
knowledge to an ever greater extent. Consequently Subject Leaders have become a
serious consideration central to the quest to effectively meet the needs of the National
Curriculum. It is this apparent paradox between centralist prescription and devolved
control with the imposition of business management styles on primary schools that
makes the role of Subject Leader such a complex issue. This research explores the
roles of Subject Leaders in the context of the tensions that exist between the traditional
primary school teaching values and cultures, and the new managerial systems being
imposed on them.
It is argued that the Subject Leadership role is influenced by three major factors. Firstly
are factors external to the school such as legislative change and inspection reports.
These act to shift school priorities dramatically. Legislation may also raise the
importance of particular curriculum areas and act to undermine feelings of progress
made in other subjects thus creating a hierarchy of subject responsibility. Secondly
primary school management styles and structures are demonstrated to have a
significant impact on the role. They are shown either to undermine or encourage Subject
Leaders in playing an active role in the development of the curriculum. It is suggested
that flat management styles are more successful as they are likely to value individual
contributions. Thirdly factors are raised related to the Subject Leaders themselves
showing clearly the importance they attach to communication and good relations with
colleagues. In addition the culture of the school is shown to have a marked and
interactive influence over all these factors Subject Leaders preferring to work in
collaboration rather than seeing themselves as 'leading'. As a consequence it is argued
that the language of leadership should be abandoned as encouraging division between
colleagues and failing to capture the basic communal culture of primary education.