Going back to the floor

Laurence Pollock

Laurence Pollock on the government adviser who became a deputy head

Nargis Rasheed was in school when the TES rang at 7.55 am. A man answered the phone and with some hesitation managed to put the call through.

"Mr Todd is not a good telephonist," she commented, referring to King's Heath Boys' school's headteacher Stuart Todd.

Telephones apart, the pair are working as a team putting blue water between today's steady improvement and the special measures of three years ago.

Rasheed is nearing the end of her second term back in school corridors after many years as an adviser for governor training with Birmingham education authority. It is the kind of test which tabloid pundits, government ministers and, probably, quite a few teachers, think officials should face all the time.

Honest friends thought she was mad when she announced her intention to take a secondment. The more diplomatic simply thought she was courageous. Rasheed, herself, has no illusions: "It is quite tough. If you don't deliver, your credibility goes - you are always in the limelight."

She is convinced, however, that just as headteachers are seconded to become advisers, it would be good if the process worked the other way round.

For Rasheed, it has been a fantastic experience, but the new wisdom did not come easy. "I didn't appreciate that you couldn't do anything strategic during the school day. It is difficult to close the door. You are on call the entire day - office staff, parents, teachers and so on. Strategic planning happens afterwards."

King's Heath is a small secondary school in south Birmingham with just under 400 boys on its roll. Half are on free school meals, two-thirds are on the special educational needs register and 11 per cent have an SEN statement. For 44 per cent, English is an additional language. The school failed an OFSTED inspection in 1998.

Rasheed became involved last year, as part of the LEA monitoring group, while Stuart Todd, as the new headteacher, was working to redevelop it. The school then bought in some extra time from Rasheed and she was drawn into the particular problems it was facing. It is now out of special measures.

"There were lots of things that needed sorting out," she says. "We had to rebuild the links with local primary feeder schools. Nobody from King's Heath had visited any of the primary schools for 12 years."

An opportunity for secondment as school manager - in effect deputy headteacher - then arose and Rasheed saw the chance to step away from the "general" and get involved with the "specific". She is also enjoying the human interaction involved - getting to know staff and pupils, and their family situations.

"I am more aware of the pressures on youth today. With many of these boys, the odds are not in their favour. And you have to have a very broad view about what education is. That is something that ministers do not appreciate when they talk about setting targets for GCSEs. They should spend a week on placement in a school to see how things happen, but I don't know if they would survive. I think I could do an equally good job in government."

She would certainly be used to ministerial workloads, clocking in 11 and 12-hour days (finishing as late as 9pm on Mondays if there is a governors' meeting).

Despite her change in role, governors' issues still loom large, though localised. Rasheed attends as many governors' meetings as she can - and she is invited to them all. Personnel and finance, not surprisingly, monopolise her attention. Getting policies in place is a particular priority.

There has also been plenty of work to do with building up governing body structures - her special area of expertise.

"Before special measures, the board was ineffective and not functioning as a governing body. They were totally flabbergasted when the school went into special measures. The previous chair was very nice, but ineffective and unable to share information.

"We now have a very good chair who works very hard and spends a lot of time in school. She comes and talks to me a lot and I have been helping her put the annual report together."

In the background, Rasheed is trying to create a board which will not be caught out again and will know the right questions to ask - where is the head's term report? What does the PANDA say? How about the autumn package? And she admits that with her past connections it is possible, occasionally, to get a bit of extra help from the LEA.

She is enjoying the revival at King's Heath school - marked by a positive HMI inspection in March. The report said that leadership was effective, a positive ethos was improving the quality of education and governors were playing a full and active part in the school improvement plan.

Thankfully, the inspectors drew a veil over Stuart Todd's telephone switchboard skills. That might have to be the next item on Nargis Rasheed's substantial agenda.

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Laurence Pollock

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