Make sure the time is right to move up

Paul Blum continues his series on Life in Leadership

You are ready to think of applying for a leadership team position when you have at least three years' middle management experience and have led a team of teachers through a range of situations, leaving a "mark of improvement"

on the way they work.

But you increase your likelihood of getting into a leadership team if you consider other important criteria for getting shortlisted for a senior post.

A competent and convincing candidate for senior management will have good knowledge and opinions about all the latest educational issues, even if they are not necessarily applying for a job that demands a detailed appreciation of them all. The best information is drip fed to you every week in The TES. Other good sources of information are the Guardian and Independent education pages and the teaching union magazines.

Reading educational books that investigate a topic more deeply is also useful from time to time. Some teachers never read a book on educational theory or practice after leaving college, which does not say a lot for their genuine interest in some important research and reflection from others in the field.

Some schools look for evidence of a broader span of educational knowledge through a higher degree, such as a masters in education. There is a huge selection of part-time courses on offer, including from the Open University.

Many Masters include modules that require you to put theory into practice by setting up some action research in your own school around some aspect of curriculum improvement. This is a practical way of rolling up your sleeves and getting direct experience of a whole-school project, so vital for successful senior management job applications.

Even if you have not done a further qualification to broaden your knowledge of educational issues, schools will want to see that you have been able to follow through a curriculum initiative at department level.

Most schools will expect you to be able to talk about aspects of your work with clarity and enthusiasm. Within that, they will also want you to show how you have analysed a problem, planned a solution and worked with a team of teachers to carry out the plan.

Most important is how honest and analytical you are at reflecting on the success and failure of what you set out to achieve. These skills and experience are just as essential at senior management level on the bigger whole-school stage.

It is desirable, though not always mandatory, to gain some experience of strategic whole-school management. This can be done on a voluntary basis by shadowing a senior manager, or by asking to be given a temporary responsibility for a whole-school process, again either workingvoluntarily or, better still, with you being paid for acting up in a senior post.

An obvious activity that would make you invaluable as an extra pair of hands in your school could be helping with timetabling.

You will know when you are ready for senior management when the combination of your experience as a classroom teacher, middle manager and "human being"

help you to construct your own guiding principles about the part you want to play in the life of a school. The shorthand for this is a personal educational vision.

Mine has increasingly centred around a search for new solutions to old problems. My method of going about it has usually been to probe a problem as deeply and honestly as possible, to find out what the real sticking point is. As a set of principles, it influences the way I lead other teachers on any aspect of school life.

You need something personally important to hold on to, when all around you absurd targets are being set and unrealistic policies are being forced down from on high.

Having your own core educational values is vital because, as a senior manager, you will often have to be cunning at adapting ill-thought-out government initiatives.

Paul Blum is a senior manager in a London school


You are ready for senior management when:

* you have a clearly-formed educational vision;

* a good knowledge of all the key issues of school life.

You can help develop these by:

* getting a masters in education,

* asking for an experience of a whole-school management issue.

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