Educational Leadership: Ambiguity, Professionals and Managerialism

Author(s) Hoyle, E & Wallace, M
Publisher Sage
Published 2005
Pages 224
Price 24.99
ISBN 0761967435
Reviewed by Mrs Sharon Lambley
London Metropolitan University-Department of Applied Social Sciences
Review published 20 July 2006

This book is an excellent read about management and leadership in schools. The introduction to ‘an ironic orientation’ to explain head teacher and teacher responses to managerialism is enlightening, and I found that the concept of irony grows on you as it is developed and applied throughout the book.   This book adds to ‘a growing recognition of the dysfunctions of managerialism’ (pg x) and confirms what other writers have found; namely that professionals and manager-professionals have not easily absorbed new managerialism (e.g., Deem R, Fulton O, Hillyard S, Johnson R, Reed M and Watson S, 2003). However Hoyle and Wallace do not reject management and leadership but rather argue for a more temperate approach both in policy and in practice to reduce the worst excesses of managerialism. Whilst this book does not offer a prescription ‘for what needs to be done’, the authors introduce the reader to management and leadership characteristics that ‘might work’ in schools today, which are both principled and practical. These characteristics could arguably be applied to other parts of the public sector and it is for this reason that I think many public sector readers would be interested in this book

The book is divided into four parts. In part one the authors argue that government reforms have not led to anticipated levels of educational improvements commensurate with levels of investment, and that there is widespread head teacher and teacher dissatisfaction. They explore the gap that has arisen between policy intentions and outputs and focus upon the ironic orientations that have emerged amongst head teachers and teachers as a means of coping with the reforms. The authors believe that the pressures brought about in the reforms are intentional i.e., ‘much of recent policy has been to eliminate prevailing ambiguity from educational organisations even though, in our view, much of that ambiguity is endemic’ (pg 7). They suggest that management and leadership is seen as a means to eliminate ambiguity by tightening links between policy and practice but suggest that in reality over reliance on managerialism is unhelpful ‘because it is more likely to create problems for head teachers and teachers than to solve them.’ (pg ix). An example of some of the ‘problems’ managerialism creates is illustrated in chapter 2. ‘Recall from Chapter 1 the legal requirement that the curriculum ‘promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society.’ How can teaching the curriculum to a group of students in any school promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of society as a whole, except insofar as these students comprise a very small part of their very large society? And how could we determine whether the aspiration to make a difference to society has been achieved?’(pg 32) The authors suggest that there is a limit to rationality and the case for reducing ambiguities should be made within the limits of what is feasible. They suggest that current reform efforts, in ‘seeking to radically reduce ambiguity in education… have generated the irony of excessive leadership and management.’ (pg 43).

In part two the authors explore what they mean by managerialism distinguishing it from leadership and management in general, and highlighting how excessive leadership and management threatens not only to become a serious distraction from the core purpose of schools to educate, but also ‘to swamp the educators role – which is far more crucial to educational improvement.’ (pg 67) . The authors highlight three versions of managerialism (ideal types) identifying the characteristics of each type and giving examples of how these ideal types might manifest themselves in schools. They also consider the impact of the organisation as policies are implemented within schools. Strengthening school leadership and management they suggest has led to some positive impacts but also some unintended ironies including managers generating work that is either unnecessary or distracting. They question whether the improvements can be justified in terms of the heavy costs ‘… financially and in terms of sapping the energy and lowering the job satisfaction of teachers and head teachers who have had to implement so many reforms, so often, and so fast.’

In part three the authors deconstruct the rhetoric of a reported ‘educational crisis’ and the urgency of transformation of the educational system, revealing gaps between the rhetoric and the reality of transformation. They challenge the readers understanding of educational leadership revealing ironies and ambiguities. They argue that managerialism restricts leadership to the transmission of centrally specified reforms. This is a challenge to current leadership and management thinking, where transformational rather than transactional leadership is promoted. The transmission context, Hoyle and Wallace argue, leaves individual agents (head teachers and teachers) with little scope for transforming learning and teaching.

In part four the authors hypothesise that most schools have adopted an ironic orientation towards managerialism and argue for temperate approaches to educational leadership and management citing staff mediation of the reforms rather full adoption and endorsement. They argue that there is a need for incremental improvements, supported by temperate policy making, which accepts ambiguities. The authors are aware of the problems generated by this position. This includes the temperate approach ‘not being a very exciting position’ to the practical problems of how to ensure there is informed policy making which acknowledges ambiguity, and to reducing managerialist excesses at a local level where some staff have already bought into the language, qualifications and opportunities that managerialism brings for career progression.

Overall, I felt that this book makes a positive contribution to the debate about the impact of managerialism within public services. I liked the elements that made up the ironic orientation (scepticism, pragmatism and contingency), recognising them in my own experiences in Higher Education, and I liked the way in which the concept of irony was linked to some key concerns as well as positive practices. This is a book that I would thoroughly recommend to anyone interested in leadership and management in schools, but given its broader application, I would also recommend the book to anyone interested in leadership and management in the public sector.