The quality of leaders is strained

Mark Whitehead

SECONDARY. Leadership is good in most schools but monitoring of standards is still weak according to the chief inspector's latest report

The quality of leadership is a strong point in most secondary schools inspected last year, but monitoring of standards and evaluating teachers' performance, though improving, continues to be a management weakness, says the chief inspector of schools's annual report.

Most secondary schools were given top marks for the quality of their leadership. Almost three-quarters had heads and governors who provided clear educational direction. They placed particular emphasis on seeking the highest academic achievement for all and these schools tend to be improving.

But in the one in 10 schools where leadership was weak, a lack of vision and ineffective policy implementation led to low standards of work and behaviour.

Although the monitoring of standards and evaluation of teaching continued to be the weakest aspects of management, unlike many primary schools, secondaries had usually established effective systems for monitoring performance using indicators such as exam results.

Development planning was good or very good in only three schools in 10 and unsatisfactory in more than one-third. Even more commonly, plans were not built on thorough evaluation and their effectiveness was not properly monitored.

At best, governors were involved in all aspects of strategic planning and often gave useful support based on their own expertise. As in the primary sector, few governing bodies used clear indicators to make decisions about the head's salary.

The key role of middle managers - teachers, mainly heads of department, with responsibility for other staff - was often underdeveloped. Too many heads of department saw their role as managers of resources rather than people. The role of middle managers in monitoring the quality of teaching was often ill-defined.

Financial control was generally sound and often good. Planning was improving but was weak in one school in six, with some having difficulty in costing plans. But nine in 10 schools made good use of staffing, accommodation and learning resources.

Many schools had problems with long-term strategic planning and managing budget reductions.

Schools were generally well staffed, but one school in 20 had problems matching the subject taught to the teacher's initial qualification and this was affecting standards.

A survey of staffing revealed particular difficulties in recruiting teachers in some subjects at middle and senior management levels, especially in inner-London. Only a small number of schools suffered high staff turnover, but in nearly one in 10 the stability of staffing had resulted in high staffing costs.

Most secondary schools had good induction programmes for new teachers, but in-service training was unsatisfactory in one-quarter of schools, often being informal and unsystematic. Half the schools needed to improve their teachers' information-technology skills and other priorities were management training for those with departmental responsibility and training for subject teachers who helped pupils with special educational needs.

The inspectors confirmed that plans for the regular appraisal of teachers have largely failed.

Learning resources were adequate in three-quarters of schools despite shortages of textbooks in some subjects. There were also shortages of equipment and materials and access to computers remained a problem.

But, as in primary schools, a sample survey showed that in about half of secondaries shortages were the result of money not being well spent. Schools were increasingly developing their libraries to include multimedia systems and access to the Internet, but these resources were yet to be used effectively by all schools.

Mark Whitehead

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