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A day in the life of a school adviser

Rana Keane, an adviser with Renfrewshire's education development service, starts her working day by coming into the office and being greeted by flyers from publishers, invitations to conferences, consultation documents from the Scottish Executive and national organisations and myriad other communications, including e-mail messages.

The telephone rings repeatedly, with enquiries from schools, other departments, young graduates looking for school placements and teachers wanting to register for supply work.

By 9.10am Ms Keane has already been so busy that her first cup of coffee is cold. It's time to meet with a task group. Given her responsibility for management development, the task groups she works with are concerned with planning quality continuing professional development for headteachers and other senior staff. During the meeting, ideas are batted backwards and forwards, practicalities considered, plans made to consult colleagues and at the end minutes have to be written and paper work drafted. (She plans to do that this evening.) In the past hour more post, voice mail and e-mail messages have arrived. A little known personal quality in the desirable criteria of an adviser is the ability to be ambidextrous, though three hands would be better, she jokes. The kettle keeps getting boiled.

Time to make a school visit. Today it is to a large primary to assist the headteacher in completing the profile for the school's three-year review, which is due to take place soon.

School visits provide the opportunity to support heads in a number of ways. They appreciate the chance to talk through issues with another colleague who has the additional advantage of some insight into the progress being made across the authority and in the national context. For the adviser, it is also an opportunity to finish a cup of coffee.

After lunch, Ms Keane has a meeting with colleagues from leisure services to progress the out-of-school learning programme. As the group's education representative, it is important for her to make sure the activities are enjoyable and will continue to raise young people's self-esteem and confidence.

Next it is time to meet the manager involved in the next three-year review. Knowing schools is an integral part of an adviser's contribution to moving the education service forward and this knowledge helps to prepare the agenda for the review.

Back at the office, more e-mail and phone call messages are waiting. Arrangements have to be made for principal teacher meetings and there is proof reading and drafting of minutes and notes to be completed.

Having responsibility for arts development, Ms Keane also has to make plans for future arts events. This is an important aspect of Renfrewshire's approach to meeting recommendations of the national culture strategy.

In the evening, she has a meeting with staff in a nursery to consider their professional development needs. But before leaving the office she packs her briefcase with minutes from this morning's meeting, the three-year review profile, requests for information, a school's draft HMI action plan, notes for next session's courses and budget statements to check.

WHAT THE HEADTEACHERS SAY

Graham Herbert head of Lockerbie Academy Dumfries and Galloway

"Our advisers are all subsumed under a central team of education officers, our one serving Lockerbie, Annan, Langholm and Moffat academies.

"They are generic rather than subject specialists and I think that's a loss, a sad demise, because of the former's expertise, links to all facets of their subjects and their specific curricular development focus.

"That said, their role is still vital, as critical friends, external eyes on what the school is doing. They have an overview and a clear role in quality assurance, looking at school development plans, drawing up pre-inspection reports and attending departmental reviews.

"We see our education officer pretty well every month and talk on the phone a couple of times a month.

"At the moment they also deal with parental complaints, though Dumfries and Galloway will soon set up its own parental support unit.

"Although the service has been generic for almost 10 years, the irony is that our education officer, for example, is still landed with his own physical education specialism work along with his quality assurance role.

"We do need them. They are not luxury items."

Ralph Barker head of Alloa Academy Clackmannanshire

"As a small authority, Clackmannanshire retained three advisers on disaggregation in 1996. They are cross-curricular rather than subject based, linked to clusters of schools, dealing with issues such as risk assessment, information and communications technology and health and safety.

"Curriculum development is now pursued across, rather than within, local authorities and so our teachers will attend in-service training in other authorities, such as North Lanarkshire, who charge for this.

"Our advisers are easily accessible and visit schools as often as subject advisers did, and we would feel isolated without them.

"If we get principal teachers under the McCrone agreement who are not subject-specific, as seems likely, I think this will prove an area which will need development at a local authority level as well as in schools. There might well be an issue for the advisory service here."

Norman Dodds head of Duns Primary School Scottish Borders

"Given the state of affairs in Borders, our leaders suggested cutting the advisory service by 50 per cent. A campaign, in which headteachers played a significant role, had this reduced to 25 per cent, which means the loss of four or five posts.

"I think we surprised our council leaders by how much we value our advisers: we value them absolutely.

"We have both subject advisers and quality development advisers.

"Our school has had the maths subject adviser in for 20 mornings this session to help raise our achievement. He has originated classroom material, delivered it in class, assisted with staff development and raised staff confidence.

"Where we have subject advisers we generally get excellent support. And we also have assistant advisers who are hands-on in schools.

"Quality development advisers are involved in three school review meetings per year. They monitor and support and have produced guidelines in areas as diverse as music, PE, drama and environmental studies, which Borders sells to other authorities because they are practical and classroom-based.

"The advisorate typically delivers continuing professional development and in-service training with quality content. It is usually stimulating and thought provoking and sometimes it is even inspiring."

Jane Whinnet head of Balgreen Nursery School Edinburgh

"Advisers are part of the city's support and challenge policy and I'm lucky that the adviser linked to our geographical area has a background in pre-school education, having taught in nursery schools herself. She gives pastoral support and builds good relationships with staff.

"Advisers, as part of quality assurance, also take part in school reviews and help you with school development plans and standards and qualities reports. They have both an advisory and a monitoring role in their generic approach.

"There are also advisers with specialisms such as child protection, who have a vital role to play.

"Overall, advisers can give you the bigger picture of developments city and country-wide and they understand your context and can provide you, as a headteacher, with staff development at your level."

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