Leading the Strategically Focused School: Success and Sustainability

Author(s) Brent Davies
Publisher Sage Publications Ltd
Published 2006
Pages 224
Price £21.99
ISBN 1412911915
Reviewed by Mr James Williams
University of Sussex
Review published 17 August 2006

The keyword in the title to this book is ‘Strategically’ and a comprehensive account of strategy is what Professor Davies delivers. Books on management can be a very dry read. Often, management books are not attuned to the issues and unique setting that is a modern day school. This book, however, is neither dry nor out of touch with the needs of management in 21st century schools. At the heart of good management is concern about people, be they staff or pupils. The central thesis of Professor Davies is that a whole school strategy for development and improvement is the concern of all those involved in the organisation, from the school caretaker to the headteacher. I wholeheartedly agree with this. Too often, as highlighted in the book, the strategic direction of school development is seen as a matter for the management only and not the whole staff.

Good management books should be able to stand alone almost chapter by chapter, yet still be effective as a whole book. Busy managers rarely have time to read whole books, reflect on their messages and implement from start to finish their recommendations. This book can be taken holistically and, it makes an engaging read, perhaps not quite reaching blockbusting bestseller status, but the style does draw the reader in and the citations to published books and academic papers in the fields of strategic management enhance rather than distract from the message. Helpfully the author also gives a chapter schematic that breaks the book into four sections. The book leads a novice manager and leader through an understanding of what strategic management and leadership is from the predictable starting point of values and beliefs (chapters 1- 3) through to developing a strategy (chapters 4 – 7) and implementing a strategy (chapters 8-10), ending on the ideal of a strategically focused school (chapter 11).

For me, chapter 6 is at the core of good management and leadership. At the heart of any school are the people who work within it and the pupils who experience life at the school each day. At the core of any institutional change is the notion of engaging the people. Chapter 6 covers this in some detail and conveys the absolute necessity of talking everybody concerned, but the option of strategy is not abandoned with sections on strategic conversations and strategic motivation. Many managers and leaders pay lip service to the notion of engaging staff and pupils in developing and changing the direction that a school is heading in, particularly if that direction is downwards. Actually listening and taking account of individuals fears, concerns, ideas and ensuring that there is a genuine dialogue is no easy task, but the task may be made a little easier by really reading and taking on board the central message of chapter 6, that engaging people is vital to success.

Throughout the book there are a number of useful charts, flow diagrams and ‘checkpoints’ consisting of questions that the reader needs to be asking about their progress towards achieving a ‘strategically focused school’. The incorporation of case studies is always welcome in a book such as this as the reader invariably will want a real life illustration of what the author is advocating. More case studies would have enhanced the book, but nevertheless, its core messages and practical guidance will undoubtedly help the reader. For those concerned with day to day leadership and management I suspect that sections of the book that reinforce the author’s central message with reference to what the research tells us will be skipped, but the references provide a useful set of starting points for anybody undertaking further academic study in educational management. There is a good index – often a weakness in books of this type and overall it is a useful practical book that would enhance the on hand guidance for managers and leaders in schools.