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From 21 departments to eight teams of equals

A TRADITIONAL East Lothian comprehensive has become one of the first in Scotland to ditch its 21 subject principal teachers in favour of eight curriculum managers, grabbing its post-McCrone chance to lay out an entirely new pattern for secondary education.

While other schools and local authorities dance around management restructuring in glass shoes, Ross High, Tranent, has jumped in by appointing its first six cross-departmental faculty managers. They will be responsible in the new session for raising achievement across the 920-pupil secondary.

Unions, nationally, have been hostile to any severance of the link between a subject and its principal teacher and will watch developments closely at Ross High. West Lothian, the school's local authority, is already trailblazing a path. Twenty-five new middle management posts will be in place for the new session following a limited pilot this year.

Helen O'Rawe, headteacher of Ross High, said there was no reason to hold back when the post-McCrone deal had signalled significant changes. Some 43 out of the 68 staff are currently in promoted posts but this will be cut to the head, three deputes and eight middle managers.

"The writing was on the wall and I would far rather lead people into difficult change. I genuinely believe that having a small team of managers will bring about new opportunities that will allow a larger number of people to get a feel for whole-school issues. They will deal with real curricular change and national priorities," Mrs O'Rawe said.

She is convinced teachers have to work in more collective ways and end the dependency on the departmental head, a system she believes has not been as effective as it might.

"Most heads of departments have not fulfilled the expectations a growing number of headteachers have had of them with regard to people management and quality assurance, by and large because most were appointed when that was not an expectation of them," the former head of a modern studies department says.

There was a substantial difference between running a small department and a larger one and it was down to people management.

Since Mrs O'Rawe arrived at Ross High four years ago, the proportion of five-plus Credit passes at Standard grade has risen from 18 per cent to 33 per cent, a trend in improving achievement that can only be bettered by refocusing a top-heavy management structure, she contends.

Over the past two years, the school has moved to four full-time guidance staff and held back other promoted post appointments in advance of the changes she is now introducing. Money for restructuring has to be created out of the existing budget.

East Lothian has no council-wide agreement with the unions on delayering and is allowing individual schools to develop their chosen routes. David Cameron, the council's head of education, said: "We have encouraged all schools to go at the pace staff can cope with. There seems to be good general acceptance in Ross High that it's the right way to go."

Liz Morriss, the Educational Institute of Scotland's local secretary, said that the unions were looking at the development as a pilot. "It will be closely monitored jointly by the trade unions and education department and a decision will be taken at the end of the session on how well it has developed," she said.

Ross High has been running a quality assurance project since August as a forerunner to the new model. Six staff on part-time teaching commitments have been working with other departments to improve classroom practice, including peer observation. Lunchtime meetings have been arranged to allow staff to share experiences.

Concerns, nationally, have been voiced about departments being directed by non-subject specialists but Mrs O'Rawe says: "It does not matter a whit how you group subjects, what is important are the skills of the people that will make teams of equals."

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