THE management guru Charles Handy once predicted that organisations would come to look more and more like doughnuts.
The pastries would, however, be turned inside out, with the "dough" of key permanent staff in the middle and freelance workers and consultants in the space surrounding the core.
Schools would be part of this transformation. "Some teachers would be core staff, well-paid for long hours and flexibility. Others would be specialists, working outside the core and selling their expertise to a range of schools or institutions," Professor Handy wrote in The Empty Raincoat.
Finally, almost 10 years since the book appeared, schools are beginning to take on a doughnut shape. A growing number of heads and specialist teachers are working across schools as part of the collaborative arrangements that the Government is promoting.
Some serving heads are even acting as part-time consultants (see box, below right). Schools are relying on consultants for a lot of the help and advice that local education authorities used to provide. At the same time, the Department for Education and Skills has become a major purchaser of consultancy services to support initiatives such as threshold assessment, performance management for heads, and leadership incentive grants.
Describing the education consultancy market as buoyant and set to expand further, John Chowcat, general secretary of the National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants (NAEIAC), said: "Heads have to appreciate that there is going to be a more flexible education sector. Many people will continue to be firmly schools-based, of course, but as in other countries there will be a trend towards people working across schools, rather than in one institution."
NAEIAC, formed in 1919 to represent local authority advisers and inspectors, opened its ranks to independent consultants in the early 1990s.
Currently, around 700 of the association's 3,500 members are independent, and another 150 or so belong to the Society of Education Consultants. But the number of consultants working with schools is thought to be much larger than the membership of either body, with some estimates putting it as high as 6,000.
It is difficult to put a value on the market for educational consultancy.
Even the DfES does not know how much it spends on external consultants. In a reply to a recent parliamentary question about this, education minister Stephen Twigg could only say that spending on "administrative consultancy" amounted to pound;5.7 million for 2001-2, and that from April 2003 arrangements would be made to collect information on programme consultancy costs. When that information comes out it could prove explosive.
Meanwhile, despite the current funding crisis in many schools, headteachers do not seem too worried about the amount of money the Government is spending on external consultants. "That funding is coming though specific grants. It's not actually coming out of the school sector. But nevertheless it is taking money from the global pool," said Malcolm Trobe, head of Malmesbury School in Wiltshire and chair of the Secondary Heads Association's funding committee.
"There's also the problem that if you pull some of the better people out of schools from an operational level to an advisory level, they are not in the front line."
This can be as much of a problem for the consultants themselves as for their former schools. As time passes, ex-heads or specialist teachers start to lose the credibility that enabled them to become consultants. For this reason the Consultant Leader programme, which the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) launched last autumn, aims to keep headteachers in schools, while giving them the skills to take on a wider role. Around 250 experienced heads have now been through the programme, which qualifies them to work either as facilitators on other NCSL courses or directly with schools - for example, as leadership incentive grant consultants.
Private education companies can also see the value of subcontracting work to practising headteachers.
"We are very interested in seeking ways of working with existing practitioners which liberate their talents but allow them to keep their educational base," said Tim Emmett, development director for the Centre for British Teachers, a non-profit-making education company. Pointing out that this is difficult under current employment arrangements, he added: "It would be better if we were allowed to run schools and employ heads and teachers, because we would then be able to create space for people to do these things."
The idea of state school heads being employed by private-sector companies and working as part-time consultants may sound far-fetched, but no more so than a school organisation resembling a strange kind of doughnut.
BENEFITS OF FLEXIBILITY FOR HEAD AND SCHOOL
David Triggs' career as a conference speaker and educational consultant began when he was invited on behalf of the Specialist Schools Trust to speak to headteachers in Melbourne, Australia.
That led to further invitations from conference organisers both Down Under and closer to home - and to a lot of lucrative consultancy work. Mr Triggs, principal of Greensward college, a large, successful school in Essex, has worked for Serco-QAA in both Bradford and Walsall, where the company has taken over most of the education services. His other assignments have included helping a school in Basildon move out of special measures and appointing a head to a school in Luton.
He now spends just two or three days a week at Greensward, leaving the day-to-day running of the school to senior vice-principal Debbie Stokes.
This arrangement, he said, allows him to concentrate on developing a vision for the school, and could be replicated elsewhere.
Explaining that most of the money he earns from outside work goes into Greensward's budget, Mr Triggs said: "My salary costs are, in effect, reduced dramatically and at the same time I am connected to all the networks and I see best practice around the place.
"Equally, I earn additional income for myself, so everybody is happy."