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Crucial role, crunch salary

Mark Fletcher finds that fewer teachers are being attracted into administration nowadays.

Fewer jobs, comparatively low salaries, vacancies filled by the redeployed and a decidedly uncertain outlook mean that fewer teachers are getting into education administration in local authorities. Teachers who do either seem to have special skills, particular backgrounds or an already close working relationship with their LEA.

Oldham headteacher Keith Whittlestone was head-hunted by his local education authority. At the beginning of October, he was persuaded to give up his 11-16 headship to become special projects officer with Oldham LEA. He kept his headteacher pay and conditions. "I saw it as an opportunity. I became a head at 41 and I couldn't envisage staying in there for the rest of my life. I've seen lots of adverts for headteacher posts where the head has retired after 21 years at the school. That wasn't for me."

Mr Whittlestone's move is unusual - he was able to keep his status and his salary. Jim Hendy, general secretary of the Society of Education Officers, said that teachers were now less likely to be attracted to administration. "Teachers are not very keen to go into work which has been denigrated by the Government. The other problem is the salary relativities - teachers have done better than education officers in the past few years. At one time, LEAs would have attracted heads of departments and deputy heads. Now, it's teachers with a couple of years' experience. It's because of the salary."

But a key factor is the lack of available posts. "For about two years most LEAs have been trimming their staff. Over the past two to three years there have been only a dozen or so posts. And these have been in the area of special needs," said Mr Hendy.

In the Eighties, the demand for training for new entrants was so great that the SEO ran annual courses. But none has taken place in recent years. Michael Nix, South-east secretary for the SEO, said: "The induction programme folded a couple of years ago. There has been a lot less recruitment. In the end there were just not enough people."

The closure of the professional assistant door (the first management tier) has meant that would-be administrators are taking on project-based work to get their feet in the door. Hertfordshire has just advertised special needs post funded by Grants for Education, Support and Training cash which has attracted several teachers, said Geoffrey Williams, chairman of the SEO's management development committee, and an assistant director for the county.

But Mr Williams says that it is vital that LEAs continue to recruit from schools. "There is a need to have teachers move into senior management and be the senior and chief education officers of the future."

The demands on education officers have changed as schools manage more and more of their own affairs. Could it be that a teaching background is no longer needed? Wakefield's former CEO, Tony Lenney, said: "The education service is recruiting more staff from other professions. Directors in future will have a much wider background. A number of senior staff are coming in from financial backgrounds. If you were recruiting 10 years ago, it would be from teaching".

Geoffrey Williams thinks that there is more to education management than general administrative and management skills. "I think that in dealing with institutions we need to understand how schools tick. There will be a credibility gap if the authority isn't seen to be managed by people who have an empathy with schools and haven't faced the class. In the long run, if we're not bringing in well-motivated people with teaching backgrounds it could mean that LEAs will be managed like health services."

One teacher was driven to look at admin because she found it hard to get part-time work. Margaret Stanton started off as a home economics teacher, but when she had a family and wanted to do fewer hours, getting work became progressively more difficult. With home economics sidelined in the national curriculum, she retrained and gained a job with a special needs outreach team. This year, she applied for a professional assistant post at Rochdale. The postholder needed to have experience of teaching children with special needs. "I felt that children with special needs really needed someone with experience to speak up for them."

With salary, conditions and all that the Local Government Review holds against would-be officers, it is hard to see why anyone should still want to work in administration. Keith Whittlestone believes that getting ex-teachers into the education office is crucial. "We are obviously at the cutting edge. One thing LEAs need to avoid is being that much more removed, being in ivory towers, " he said.

And for Margaret Stanton, it is "quite interesting being on the other side, being the one from the office, being the one who has the final word".

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