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Middle Management in Schools:

A Special Educational Needs Perspective

Dr Sonia Blandford and Suanne Gibson

Westminster Institute of Education, Oxford Brookes University

Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Edinburgh, 20th-23rd September 2000

Introduction

 

This paper is presented in five sections:

1. An Introduction to Educational Management and Special Educational Needs

2. Middle management in schools: England, France, America

3. Background to current research

4. Research methodology

5. Analysis and conclusions.

1.1 EDUCATION MANAGEMENT

Education management is the achievement of objectives through people, managers are responsible for the work of others. Bush and West-Burnham (1995) define the principles of management which encompass, planning, resourcing, controlling, organising, leading and evaluating.

Managers lead, manage and administrate; they keep things going, cope with breakdown, initiate new activities and bring teams and activities together. More specifically, the key functions of school management are to manage policy, learning, people and resources. In practice, school managers create, maintain and develop conditions which enable effective learning to take place.

It is axiomatic that management in education has to happen; curriculum, fiscal, resource, building, pupils, staff and the wider community need management. In England and Wales this has led to the emergence of middle management in schools (Blandford, 1997). Is this a reflection of practice or the cultural influence of hierarchical structures in British society? In the Victorian period, increased bureaucracy and administration contributed to the creation of the middle classes, has increased bureaucracy in schools led to the creation of middle management.

1.2 THE SENCO

The present emphasis on inclusive education emerged following developments in a number of areas: government policy, resource allocation of Special Educational Needs (SEN), Local Education Authority (LEA) provision and school provision. The Warnock Report (1978) which noted that 20 % of all pupils have some form of SEN. Followed a decade later by the Education Reform Act (1988) on which the principle that was to drive SEN practice was first reported; that all pupils participating should participate in a National Curriculum. Subsequent Department for Education circulars (DfE, 1994) provided the framework for SEN and multi-agency support in schools commonly known as the Code of Practice (COP). The COP was a watershed, a bringing together of previous legislation and practice associated with SEN in schools SEN policies in all schools was now statutory. The 1997 Education Act and the 1998 Green Paper, Excellence for all Children, Meeting SEN, added further legislation for inclusive education.

In defining the role of SENCO the Code of Practice (1994, 2:14/p.9) provided a clear lists of responsibilities including:

Derrington et al (1996) researched the impact of the Code of Practice (DfE, 1994) on schools and LEAs. His findings suggest that the number of managerial role/s the SENCO is to perform may have a tendency to spiral out of control. The following provides a summary of the range of additional responsibilities undertaken by ten secondary school SENCOs:

Full-time subject teaching.

Responsibility for organising staff cover.

Management of support assistants.

Deputy headteacher

Management of support teachers and assistants.

SMT member.

Head of Year. Primary liaison. Subject teaching 0.25.

 

Management of support teachers and assistants.

 

 

 

 

Coordinator for assessment.

Mentor for NQTs.

Subject teaching 0.1.

Head of learning resources.

Management of support teachers and assistants.

Subject teaching 0.4.

Management of support teachers and assistants.

Subject teaching 0.1.

Management of support teachers and assistants.

Subject teaching 0.2.

 

After the Code of Practice (1994) the DfEE published various circulars and guidance in order to provide further clarification of the SENCO role. The SENCO Guide (DfEE, 1997) comments:

Schools have done much to improve provision for children with SEN since the Code of Practice 1994 [...] a number of areas have caused difficulties for some schools.

The guide summarised the results of projects, which attempted to identify effective practice in three areas:

In 1998 the government through the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) developed National Standards for SENCOs, these are now statutory. The TTA published a description of the standards required for an effective SENCO, based on the following five sections:

  1. The core purpose of the SENCO

  2. Key outcomes of SEN co-ordination

  3. Professional knowledge and understanding

  4. Skill and attributes

  5. Key areas of SEN co-ordination

1.3 THE SENCO AS MANAGER, ADMINISTRATOR AND TEACHER

What happens in practice? Hackney (1997, p.120), having interviewed a wide range of practitioners noted the following as qualities for effective SENCOs:

When reviewing SEN management practice Derrington et al (1996, p32) found that three models emerged:

In 1995, Hornby et al, published, The SENCO's Handbook which provided a well structured information on how to implement the Code of Practice. The text provides much essential information on Individual Education Plans (IEPs), SEN policies. However, it fails to address the 'reason' behind the difficulties in implementing the Code of Practice in mainstream schools. That is of course SENCO status, training; time management; resource management, people management (pupils, parents, external aids, teachers and LSAs), the management of policies, administration, and the management of paperwork (Derrington (1996) and the DfEE (1997)). As Derrington (1996, p.27) stated:

three potential barriers to the successful management of the role [are]; lack of status, inadequate training and insufficient time to fulfil the duties.

1.4 MANAGEMENT - THE FUNCTIONALIST MODEL

Greenfield (1993, p.135-138) places the origins of the functionalist management model in Herbert Simon's 1945, Administrative Behaviour, a text written from a strong positivist perspective;

For Simon administration was simply an element or function in a productive system; as such, it could be regarded as operating in precisely the same maner as all other technical variables of a productive system.

Greenfield (1993, p164-165) believed that the functionalist management model in education, served to reproduce power relations and cultural tensions throughout the school and wider community. Greenfield considered that functionalist's had a tendency to ignore any deeper moral and subjective issues that may exist:

The difficult and divisive questions, the questions of purpose and morality, the questions arising from the necessary imposition of one person's will upon another, the questions that challenge the linking of ends means - all these matters are set aside for a pallid consensus and an illusory effectiveness. The great issues of the day in education are similarly set aside.

It may be the case that functionalism, with set lists and value-free approach to operational decision-making, cannot effectively provide for the multi-dimensional role of the SENCO involving the juggling of many identities; teacher and manager.

A straightforward answer to this dilemma is presented in true functionalist style by Handy and Aiken (1986, p.36,p.73), who in Understanding Schools as Organisations stated:

Teachers are teachers first and managers when they have to be [..] Organisations work because there have rules and regulations, systems of authority, people who know best and traditions as to how things should be done around here

Alternatively, Derrington (1997) and Hackney (1997) suggest that the way forward for SENCOs would begin by unpacking the role in light of the many identities that exist in practice. Having unpacked the role/s the next step is that of support and a multi-agency approach to management, i.e. prevent the overload through delegation and active managerial support throughout the school. In the contemporary world of education management, there can be no place for the straitjacket of functionalism. What is needed is a more fluid approach to management and more fluid definitions of managers (Skritic 1991a, Skirtic 1991 b, Ainscow 1992, Greenfield 1993 )

How can we move beyond a functionalist approach to education management? Foster (1989) suggests that the two essential ingredients for educational leaders attempting to put into practice a post-functionalist approach to leadership and management are the ability to reflect and critical thinking:

leadership is at its heart a critical practice', and this involves educational leaders in the necessary practice of reflective and critical thinking about the culture and organisation of particular institutions and about the ways in which this culture may need to change.

Question: If we embrace Foster's view, how in practice is a post-functionalist educational management system created? How can educationalists put into operation a multi-agency approach ensuring that the subjective contributions of all parties involved are actively taken into consideration in the decision making process?

In theoretical terms is this a post-modernist approach to management? Does this approach denigrate functionalism and move to explicate subjective values, interpersonal discourse and provide for a multi-paradigmatic approach to the perception and understanding of management in the context of social reality?

Thomas (1998, p.156) developed a perspective that provides an insight into the post-modern approach to education, he states:

[...] it is a rejection of the assumption that ordered methods get us somewhere in education and the social sciences

Will a post-modern approach ensure a more effective management system leading to a decline in functionalism? Or will alternative post-functionalist models emerge?

Is there a model for realising the Code of Practice, the green paper, the action plan, the TTA's National Standards for the SENCO? Is it possible for research to develop a workable managerial model which can aid SENCOs in their quest to effectively carry out statutory duties and responsibilities whilst achieving the TTA National Standards for SENCO's?

A critical issue for SENCOs is the relationship between policy, procedures and practice. The increased weight of central government demands has increased pressure on all practitioners in schools; managers, teachers and support staff. The researchers and middle management considered that further examination of the role of the SENCO was required:

Previous research has determined that the aims and objectives of government policy within the realm of SEN provision in the mainstream are modernist in intent (Skrtic 1991 a,b, Coulby and Crispin 1999). Furthermore literature also shows that there exists an acceptance within current doxa that school organisation configurations will continue to function as combined machine-professional bureaucracies, (Cherryholmes, 1988, Skrtic 1991a). Hence what becomes apparent is that both government policy and school organisational configuration work within the functionalist paradigm (Skritc 1991b, Ritzer 1980, Giroux 1981). By using a critical theoretical approach one becomes aware of the inability of current government SEN policy aims to be achieved via the use of a functionalist paradigm, (Skrtic 1991, a and b). What also becomes apparent is the existence of a paradox between government aims and objectives and the reality of school organisation configurations, (Coulby and Crispin 1999, Scheurich, 1997, Skrtic 1991). The current issue of school management is a crucial one within the field of SEN provision (Ainscow, 1991, Skrtic 1991a and b). By using a critical theoretical framework a way forward emerges (Skrtic 1991, Giroux, 1983 Clarke,1995).

It is the intention of this research to highlight the nature of this paradox, i.e. the split between government policy objectives and current school organisation configurations. Furthermore on the basis of research findings a way forward via the application of a new educational management paradigm will be examined, (Smyth 1989, Davies 1994, Giroux 1983, Skrtic 1991, Gartner and Lipsky (1987), Thousand and Villa (1991), Stainback and Stainback 1992).

2 Middle Management in Schools in England, France, America and Australia

As the above indicates, the researchers believe that the theory and practice of school organisation, leadership and management is in transition; decentralised organisational systems are replacing organisational hierarchies, collegial leadership is supplanting authoritarian procedures, and delegation and empowerment are displacing top-down directives. The aim of the pilot study was to identify common middle management practices in England, France, America and Australia. In order to access middle managers in each country, the researcher contacted a number of professional associates and developed a team of co-researchers. This facilitated interviewing a range of practitioners in each setting. This process also enabled the researcher to access a range of institutions reflecting the demographic diversity that exists in each country.

Following consultation with co-researchers, specific research objectives were identified. The research was to focus on middle management in schools in order to:

An interview schedule was devised to provide a framework for questioning in each setting, shown in Table 1.

Name:                                                                                 Position:

School:                                                                                Phase:

Focus: Roles and responsibilities of Middle Managers

 

1. What are the middle management positions in your school?

2. Do teachers receive incremental allowances related to their middle management positions?     - Indicate range.

3. How many teachers are employed as middle managers in your school?

4. Do they have more than one area of responsibility?

5. Are middle managers considered to be academic/pastoral (student welfare) leaders in the school?

6. What other areas are middle managers responsible for - formal and informal, e.g. break duties?

7. What administrative tasks are middle managers responsible for?

8. Who do middle managers manage?

9. What do middle managers manage?

10. Are middle managers trained to lead/administrate/manage?

11. Do you have any other comments to add about the role of middle managers in your school/school region or district/education system?

12. Do middle managers become school leaders? How?

Table 1: Interview Schedule

 

The pilot study encompassed primary and secondary practice focusing on curriculum and pastoral co-ordinators in England, France, America and Australia. In total twenty-four middle managers participated in the research, each bringing a wealth of experience to the project.

Sample

The sample in each country was of cross-sectional design involving urban, suburban and rural schools across all phases of compulsory education. In England the researcher had access to schools in the central, south and west regions. In France the co-researcher focussed their research on the Alsace region. The American researcher had access to teachers in three states: Texas, California and New York. In Western Australia the researcher had access to schools in the north, south and cental metropolitan regions as well as a rural school situated in the north of the state.

Table 2 illustrates the cultural and professional diversity of the research sample.

Table 2: Research Sample

In order to bring together the data gathered by the researcher and co-researchers a framework for analysis needed to be constructed. This was provided by a number of sources. Recent research by Brown and Rutherford (1996) focused on heads of departments in secondary schools in England. Using Murphy's typology (1992) Brown and Rutherford applied the descriptors to the head of department role:

For the purposes of drawing together the broad findings of the pilot study the researcher placed the typology in a table (Table 3) together with defining qualities of middle management found in NCATE management and Teacher Training Agency subject leader training programmes. Using the summary of findings the researcher then attempted to relate each of the identified areas to middle management practice in England, France, America and Australia. As a means of collating evidence from interviews the table provides an overview, illustrating the diversity of practice that exists in England, France, America and Australia.

The findings indicate a more advanced management culture in American schools. The situation in England and Australia is that of an emerging culture in response to changing roles and responsibilities. France has specialised areas with training and development opportunities for selected teachers.

The table reveals that curriculum/subject leadership was an area of practice mentioned by all of the research sample, co-researchers and it also featured in initial teaching and continuing professional development training programmes.

On closer examination of interview data and job descriptions a dominant issue for all was the need to define their role as managers and teachers. In order to understand the nature of their job, middle managers needed to consider their teaching responsibilities within the context of their management role. This is not merely an issue of time management, but also of the compatibility between the two roles. The middle managers considered that if practitioner values and beliefs are transferable to management practice, teaching and middle management may co-exist quite successfully. If, however, individuals adopted values and beliefs in their management role which differed from their values and beliefs as a practitioners, this will be problematic. Researchers believed that the values displayed by middle managers would determine their management style, and the nature of their relationship with their colleagues.

Table 3: Middle Management in practice

 

Pilot Study - Summary

The pilot study illustrated the diversity of practice that exists in the management of schools. It can be concluded that within each setting middle managers are very much player managers, participating in the daily tasks of teaching while fulfilling the role of team leaders/managers. This demonstrates how important it is for a player manager to know their role as a middle manager in relation to both leaders and team. This research found that there is a distinctive status to being a manager. It is essential for middle managers to identify their roles in terms of:

The development of the knowledge and understanding, skills, and abilities required to manage others takes time. An education manager should be aware of the need to reflect on, and learn, from their practice. Professional managers must constantly evaluate their roles within an institution. This is a two-way process; managers knowing themselves and their team members, and teams knowing their managers. Equally, there is a distinct status attached to team membership in England, America and Australia.

In conclusion, this research found that irrespective of culture and differences in practice, for all teachers training and development is important, knowing what is required is the key. A middle manager in each setting needed to:

To know how to manage is an ongoing process.

SECTION 3: CURRENT RESEARCH

This research aims to present a post modernist perspective of management which will serve to inform the SENCO as a middle manager whose position is founded within a post-modernist education system which, in keeping with such a description, is forever changing.

The aims of the investigation were to:

Throughout this study the researchers viewed educational management from a beyond modernist perspective. The researchers consider that we are now in a post-ideological era tainted with a post-modernist 'incredulity toward meta-narratives', (Lyotard in Good, 1998, p.64). Stronach (1996, p.360) states on Peter's post-modern approach to business management:

Peters envisages a world of flux, of near anarchy and collapsed meta-narratives, wherein the new task of management is to manage disorder and instability[....]management theory has gone post-modern.

The researchers maintain that such a research agenda and methodology can be utilised via the practice of 'clustering' as depicted by Tarr and Thomas (1996). 'Clustering' will allow for the meaningful engagement of all those involved in the research process, and will be enacted from the Foucaldian premise that we all speak from a particular perspective, and in attempting to free ourselves from such subjective constraints we must critically engage in self reflection via inter-subjective dialogue.

METHODOLOGY

A case study approach with a qualitative ethnographic method was adopted. Three mainstream secondary schools participated. Interviews and informal conversations with SENCOs, teaching staff, non-teaching staff, community youth workers, parents and pupils were conducted, and a grid style questionnaire was completed to assess how SENCOs spent their time. A report was then written and key themes were drawn from the study through the use of Nudist and Word. The themes that are currently forming hypotheses to be assessed in future research are:

A. There is a role to be played by tutors and LSAs in the completing, assessing, reviewing of IEPs

B. Parents and the wider community, especially youth volunteers have a particularly vital role to play in the provision of and management of SEN, both in school and outside of school.

C. SEN needs to have a figurehead, a visionary providing leadership, but he/she should not necessarily be the sole manager of all SEN issues within the school.

D. SEN is a subject that transcends all aspects of the schools life and all curriculum areas, this being the case managing it should not be down to one person but to a team representative of the whole school.

E. Cluster SENCO groups are a supportive and effective way to manage SEN on a community wide level

The next phase entailed a wider quantitative study comprising of a postal questionnaire dispatched to 2,000 mainstream secondary school SENCOs. In total 49% responded thus allowing for a substantial quantitative study to take place. The data received was analysed with SPSS. Descriptive statistics used to highlight the frequency distribution of SENCO views. Comparative statistics, specifically the independent samples T-test, used to test hypotheses between certain independent variables such as age, gender and years in the profession, with SENCO views. The findings of this study were used to assess the significance of the hypotheses drawn from the pilot study and to provide findings into the effect of independent variables on SENCO views. Further to this phase, the researchers conducted telephone interviews with 100 SENCOs who had partaken in the postal questionnaire phase. The telephone interviews were used as a means of triangulation, i.e. confirming the validity of the postal questionnaire results. The interviews also assessed the SENCO's understanding and views on present day school organisation configuration and its effect upon the provision of SEN. To date there has been 80% agreement with the postal questionnaire findings.

CONCLUSIONS

The practice of 'clustering' as depicted by Tarr and Thomas (1996) allows for the meaningful engagement of all those involved in the management process. Enacted from the Foucaldian premise that we all speak from a particular perspective, and in attempting to free ourselves from such subjective constraints through the critical engagement in self reflection via inter-subjective dialogue the 'effective' post-modern manager of today's post-modern world of education will be born. According to Cunningham (1990, p.215), such a post-modern approach allows for the evolution of holistic wisdom. Holistic wisdom ensures that both subject and object are affirmed and reconnected thus resulting in genuine participatory procedures.

Given the nature of the SENCO's role/s, a process of genuine participation by many subjects aiding in the work of SEN management would appear to be the way forward.

In line with this claim, Derrington's research (1997, p.39), found that the practice of active support and involvement by colleagues and senior mangers resulted in SENCOs who were less concerned about failing to meet TTA standards and statutory criteria.

The way forward for education management, in particular SEN management, is most likely to be found by following the road sign posted as post-modernity. This way will ensure that a holistic approach is met hence providing for effective management (Greenfield, 1993; Skritic; 1991) . The author asserts that it is only by taking a beyond modernist perspective that the middle managerial role of the SENCO, as defined by government policy, can be effectively realised.

SECTION 5: POST-MODERN ALTERNATIVE?

By way of conclusion the author's have considered post-modernism as an alternative to the functionalist model. In acknowledging today's pluralist society the era of modernity must surely be seen to be at an end. The time for realising grand meta-narritives is over, and acknowledging that the subject and relativist subjectivity has become paramount. Stoll and Fink (1996) coming from a Gadamerian perspective make this clear. They state:

[...] all knowledge claims are intelligible and debatable only within their context, paradigm or community

Stemming from their claim is the notion that for today's educational managers, the job is not just a simple one of cutting and pasting, delegating and doing, more one of recognising the 'messes' of reality and using a holistic approach to deal with them. In taking the stance of post-modernity and applying it to education management, Cunningham firstly (1990, p.212) provides a critique of modernist management and secondly a way in to grasping the 'how-to' of post-modern management. He states:

The best of post-modernism says that there are no answers 'out there'. In this sense, then, post-modernism encapsulates ideal existential action learning; the recognition that learning to manage requires investing oneself authentically in live, present risks where there are no solutions but where the need for action is necessary and often urgent....the basis for changed action is reflection and analysis on current ways of working, we need to avoid attempts at quick fix solutions...

How are such assumptions applied to the practice of education management in such a way that the desired ends are met. In short how can reflection and critical thinking be applied in practice? Will such a model be post-modern?

Cunningham (1990) emphasised reflexivity as a way to achieving the wisdom and effectual workings of a post-modern manager. This resonates with Foster's (1989) view that reflection and critical thinking are the two key ingredients producing the effective educational manager. Habermas (cited in Mc Carthy 1975, p.xvii) may provide the theoretical framework from which both theorists and practitioners can develop reflective and critical communication skills through an understanding of the ideal group speech situation. The conditions of the ideal free speech situation must ensure discussion, which is free from all constraints of domination.

These enlightenment ideals, though modernist, provide a communication theory that in turn provides the foundation from which to construct the grey matter of a post-modern education management team.

It is the author's claim that research conducted by Tarr and Thomas (1996) drew upon this Habermasian communication theory in highlighting effective strategies for SENCOs. They advocated that to be effective as managers, SENCOs must adopt a 'clustering' approach. Their recommendation was that SENCOs should work collaboratively with LEAs, Governors, parents, teaching staff, LSAs, headteachers, Senior Management Teams (SMT), pupils and other SENCOs hence ensuring the realisation of effective practice in management. This 'clustering' process would entail regular meetings of support networks for SENCOs. Such group work emphasises the need for effective communication. Effective communication, must ensure that the autonomous nature of all individuals involved in the clustering process is both acknowledged and respected and that their subjective ideas and opinions are freely asserted thereby allowing for the collaborative reflection of all in attendance and subsequently collective group action.

With respect to the management of SEN, the first stage of such group work demands that all subjects go through a period of reflexivity, questioning and asserting their values and beliefs with regards SEN management. As Cunningham states (1990,p.216);

All goals that managers set themselves are based on value judgements and these goals provide the basis for problem solving and action. Hence in order to choose good problems upon which to work, managers need to clarify and develop their values [...]a post-modern transcendence of [one's] current [managerial] practice [...] requires managers to think about the way they think and to become aware of their own awareness

The first step is one of subjective reflexivity the second would be to acknowledge power relations. Haw (1996, p.324) considered that the tool which enables analysis of these power relations to take place is that of Foucauldian discourse:

Our everyday lives, socially, culturally, and institutionally are made up of a web of discourses which are fluid and shifting, which compete or co-exist and which are always related through these webs[...]Foucault seemed to provide a useful analytical tool in that it illuminates and reveals how power is exercised through discourse, how oppression works and how resistance might be possible.

In conclusion emerging scenario is one of a wider school community approach to education management, in particular the management of SEN. This approach may, through subjective and inter-subjective reflection and group analysis of power relations, ensure that a beyond modernist approach to education management is established. Thus the stagnant status quo of hierarchical functionalism would be replaced by paradigm diversity, anarchy in methodology, and emancipatory inter-subjective dialogue.

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This document was added to the Education-line database on 04 December 2000