Ofsted’s recent reports on RE in England reveal that while the subject had come a long way in the last decade, there is still room for improvement. In areas such as assessment, monitoring and the use of technology, RE appears weaker than other subjects. What can the RE subject leader do to improve matters?
Do you know what kind of manager you are? What is the difference between management and leadership? How do you know if you are doing a good job or not? How can you demonstrate that pupils are achieving well in RE?
Try answering these questions – and having a bit of fun – by taking our leadership style quiz. See what style of leadership you adopt and find out what your weaknesses may be.
Take the Quiz
Try this short multiple choice quiz to assess your dominant leadership style.
Answer (a), (b), (c), or (d) in each case; but don’t take it too seriously!
1. The main job of a subject leader in RE is:
a. to provide colleagues with resources for teaching;
b. to be a ‘visible presence’ around the school;
c. to be an ‘invisible presence’ around the school;
d. to provide motivation for pupils’ learning in the subject.
2. The most important people in successful RE are:
a. the pupils;
b. the religious believers;
c. the teachers;
d. the senior managers.
3. The most important material to be studied in RE today is:
a. the teachings of the world religions;
b. the life and teaching of Jesus;
d. who am I?
4. The most important issue for pupils to study in RE today is:
a. the damage we are doing to the environment;
c. the mass media;
d. how to be happy.
5. One quality I bring to RE leadership is:
c. attention to detail;
6. My colleagues think of me as:
7. RE is mainly about:
a. spiritual development;
b. faith development;
c. religious knowledge;
The first point to make is that traditional descriptions of leadership may actually be unhelpful if you want to develop your approach to running RE in your particular school. The challenges of today’s schools are so varied and constantly changing, that any description here will fall short of the detailed guidance that may be gleaned from academic studies of leadership in schools. It would be surprising if anyone felt they fell exactly and precisely into just one of the descriptions below. Nevertheless, you may still find the interpretations given below provide pointers to your own strengths and possible weaknesses!
Award yourself points as follows:
1. (a) 1; (b) 4; (c) 3; (d) 2.
2. (a) 3; (b) 1; (c) 4; (d) 2.
3. (a) 1; (b) 4; (c) 2; (d) 3.
4. (a) 1; (b) 4; (c) 2; (d) 3.
5. (a) 2; (b) 3; (c) 4; (d) 1.
6. (a) 4; (b) 1; (c) 2; (d) 3.
7. (a) 3; (b) 2; (c) 1; (d) 4.
Now add up the number of 1’s, 2’s, 3’s and 4’s you got.
What it Means
Mostly 1’s – structural functional
You have a ‘straightforward’ approach to leadership. You like to get your purposes clear and then to mobilize support, making sure that all your colleagues are on board. In terms of RE you tend towards the SCAA Model 1 syllabus – a systematic study of religions. You are generally efficient in dealing with the day-to-day issues and the vast majority of your pupils make good progress, but don’t neglect your creative side!
Mostly 2’s – cultural pluralism
You take a predominantly ‘anthropological’ approach to leadership. You take time to read the ‘signs of the times’ and to ensure that your working environment is a positive one where colleagues’ views are valued and accommodated where possible. In terms of RE, you like the ‘3rd Perspective’ approach, preferring to focus on the big themes of religious belief and practice and helping your pupils to deepen their thinking. Your pupils generally enjoy RE, but take care that your efforts to promote your vision for RE isn’t seen by colleagues as an attempt to manipulate them; they might not all understand your motives!
Mostly 3’s – invitational
Your approach to leadership has a ‘psychological’ flavour. You are interested in what makes people tick and are intentionally supportive, caring and encouraging. You would much rather develop a shared vision with colleagues than impose one of your own. You may like to think of yourself as quietly effective, well informed and creative. In terms of RE, you find most worth in the ‘spiritual’ aspects of the subject and encourage experiential learning, reflection and use of the imagination. Pupils and colleagues regard you as a consummate professional, but a tiny bit weird!
Mostly 4’s – instructional interpersonal
You like to lead by example, creating a following amongst both pupils and colleagues by being the ‘resource’ through which business is conducted. You have developed an attractive personality, which could tend towards the charismatic. You like people to know where you stand, are quite strong willed and are prepared to insist on a point of principle. In terms of RE you believe passionately in the worth of the subject, both as an aid to understanding the world and as a personal source of inner strength for pupils. RE has a high profile in the school and you are quite a visible presence – surely no one wants to knock you off your pedestal?
For a good introduction to different styles of leadership and a case for ‘invitational leadership’ try Louise Stoll and Dean Fink, 1996, Changing Our Schools, Buckingham: OUP. A summary of leadership models, some of which are used above, can be found in Busher, H. and Saran, R., 1994, Towards a Model of School Leadership, Educational Management and Administration, 22(1).
Note that this quiz does not say much about management skills – that’s another level to the job of subject leadership that cuts across the descriptions given here. Ask yourself how you manage the different expectations of your role; administrative, creative and communicative.