It pays to take the best advice

Susannah Kirkman

Being an adviser is nice work - if you can get it. Susannah Kirkman reports.

One of the most popular routes out of the classroom used to start with a post as an advisory teacher. Teachers would then either progress through the ranks of the advisory service or return to school, taking a post with more responsibility such as a deputy headship. But have these options survived cuts in the advisory and inspection service caused by dwindling funds?

Marion Broadhurst, an independent IT and business consultant who left her job as a head of business studies in 1986 to become an advisory teacher with a Technical and Vocational Education Initiative project, says: "I might not have taken the same decision five years later as there were no longer the jobs to go for when you were looking for promotion."

Her MA thesis tracing the fate of 28 advisory teachers in Wakefield in 1991 showed that, within a year, this number had been halved, and that many of the survivors found it hard to get suitable employment when their contracts ended.

According to Bill Wright, general secretary of the National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants (NAEIAC), the flow of teachers into advisory posts is still continuing, although it has diminished substantially.

"Advisory budgets were gutted when the Office for Standards in Education was set up. Many local education authorities are slowly trying to undo the damage, but I can't see there will be any funding for expansion for at least 18 months," he says.

Peter Gaskell, training co-ordinator of NAAIEC, says advisory teacher posts are most likely to be found in shortage subjects such as maths, science, early years, or in areas such as information technology or vocational education which attract funding from a variety of agencies.

Marion Broadhurst found that most of the Wakefield advisory teachers had to go back to their old jobs, where they felt frustrated and unappreciated.

Clive Moss, a former head of personal and social education who became a full-time TVEI co-ordinator in 1989, agrees. "There is a degree of insecurity. Posts are often linked to short-term funding and you are always on the look-out for something else," he says.

After working as an advisory teacher for vocational education for a year, he found his current post as a general adviser for 14 to 18-year-olds.

He believes that changes in schools have also reduced advisory teachers' career options. The introduction of national assessment and the national curriculum means that some schools look suspiciously on teachers who have spent time outside the classroom.

Margaret Dickinson, a former music teacher and music adviser who is now working as a freelance inspector and consultant, says the introduction of local management of schools is another inhibiting factor. "Schools often have to employ cheap teachers and many deputy head posts have disappeared," she says.

Margaret Dickinson's own career has followed an unorthodox pattern, but it could become more typical as advisers try to mount a careers ladder with several rungs missing. Originally a primary music specialist, she left the classroom for a post as advisory teacher for music in 1985.

"In those days, an advisory teacher's post was nearly always a springboard to promotion; people hardly ever went back to their old jobs," she says. After two years, she returned to teaching as a deputy head, and then became music adviser and inspector for Dorset, as well as head co-ordinator of the county's music service.

"Although it was tremendously rewarding, my job was becoming increasingly stressful. My working week was often in excess of 80 hours and I wasn't enjoying it. I was keen to get into the classroom. If you are out of teaching too long, you can lose your credibility and forget what it's like to be a teacher," she says.

She then took a large salary drop to become music co-ordinator at a middle school. "I could have worked my way up to a headteacher's post, but when I got back into school, and saw how much administration was involved in the head's job, I had my doubts," she says.

She decided to return to inspection and advisory work on a freelance basis. Since she left her advisory post in 1995, almost all the music inspector posts in the south-west have vanished.

However, she sees the advent of unitary authorities as a hopeful sign, since they are recruiting their own advisers, although they usually don't have the funding to employ many subject specialists. The introduction of the Internet may also lead to the recruitment of more advisory teachers, says Marion Broadhurst.

For anyone who can weather the uncertainty, the rewards of advisory work can be worthwhile. An advisory teacher's salary varies from LEA to LEA and depends partly on the level of teaching experience, but it is generally around Pounds 25,000. an adviser's pay can range from Pounds 26,000 to Pounds 49,600 - the average is about Pounds 35,000 - and the job satisfaction can be considerable.

"There is no way I wouldn't have done it. It opens your horizons and boosts your personal and professional development," says Clive Moss. "But I do still miss the buzz you get from teaching a good lesson."

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