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Prioritise or pay

Weak development planning is preventing some schools from improving, says OFSTED's latest report. Bob Doe reports on the shortcomings

Nearly half the schools inspected by OFSTED need to improve their development planning according to HM chief inspector's annual report. The little-publicised section dealing with school management says "Most schools are improving their development planning, but many pay insufficient attention to precise costings, deadlines and the names of those responsible for action. These are major flaws in school management which, in both primary and secondary schools, undermine the efforts of staff" .

Inspections have also revealed that about one school in five has weak middle managers who are holding back school improvement. "In secondary schools, too many heads of department take the narrow view that their responsibility is for managing resources rather than people."

In primary and special schools, subject co-ordinators needed more time to monitor the results of their efforts by working alongside colleagues in classrooms. Co-ordinators at junior level often failed to define clearly enough the content, objectives, teaching methodology and assessment procedures to be employed in their subject.

Particular attention needed to be given to in-service training for co-ordinators, too many of whom do not have sufficient expertise in the subjects for which they are responsible. Primary heads needed to give more time to curriculum development and monitoring specific initiatives.

Around half of all schools needed to pay more attention to the way changes in teaching affected pupil learning. "At present, the tendency in many schools is to rely entirely on impressionistic judgments."

Some secondary schools with sixth forms used a range of indicators, including completion and success rates and value added measures, to evaluate the effectiveness of separate departments as well as whole school post-16 performance. Many, however, are less rigorous and most pay insufficient attention to the cost-effectiveness of their sixth-form provision.

The report estimates that two schools in five could be making better use of their funding. Most schools gave satisfactory value for money but good value for money is reported by inspectors only infrequently. Some primary schools made good use of full-time or part-time finance assistants. "Budget control continues to distract some headteachers, however, from curriculum management tasks. About one primary school in seven needs to make substantially more effective use of the available materials, equipment and books," says the report.

In secondary schools, non-teaching financial managers, such as bursars and office administrators, were usually effective in implementing good systems of financial control and providing the head teacher and governors with up-to-date and accurate budgetary information. They monitored balances and ensured prudent expenditure, for example through the use of tendering and the securing of discounts.

There was scope in at least one secondary school in six for improving efficiency through better use of resources, for example by delegating routine tasks from teaching staff to others and by making more purposeful use of classroom assistants and special needs support staff.

Inspections suggested that, with current curriculum arrangements, an average sixth-form class size of about 11 was needed if schools were to remain within the local management of schools (LMS) funding allocated for sixth-form students. Sixth forms with fewer than 100 students tended to deplete the budget for Years 7 to 11. "If a school is to provide a basic range of GCE A-levels within the funding allocated, the absolute minimum size of sixth form required is about 80 students."

Schools in which cost-effectiveness was in question often lack clear priorities. Financial decisions were taken with insufficient information. The resulting waste was most often manifest in equipment that is purchased but little used and an excessive use of photocopied material, while textbooks were underused.

"Appraisal is becoming established as a regular management activity, but is not always used to achieve any discernible end. It does not, for example, often determine staff development priorities. The implementation of appraisal policies has sometimes been slowed by constraints on managers' time, the reluctance of staff to become involved, or by turnover of senior staff.

"Overall, appraisal has had little effect so far on the quality of teaching and it is unlikely to do so until it is focused more sharply on the essential features of the teacher's performance."

The use of non-teaching support staff was increasing in both primary and secondary schools. Primary classroom assistants were particularly helpful in art, IT, reading, science and technology.

"In addition to providing practical help with the organisation of teaching materials and equipment, assistants can, when trained and working under the supervision of teachers, make an important direct contribution to developing pupils' knowledge, understanding and skills. Notable examples include the direct teaching of skills to small groups, hearing pupils read, helping them in their writing and developing their skills in listening and speaking."

In secondary schools non-teaching staff were being demanded for libraries and to provide administrative support for large departments. The use of ancillaries for pupils with SEN was more effective when they had received training and when they were involved in joint planning with class and subject teachers.

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