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Ruthless cull of managers

Once-notorious comprehensive thrives after eliminating heads of department. William Stewart reports

A London comprehensive once dubbed "beastly Eastlea" because of its poor standards, has turned itself around by scrapping all middle management posts.

Five years ago, Eastlea school in Canning Town, one of the most deprived areas of east London, had been in special measures for two years with no end in sight.

Only 18 per cent of students were getting five Cs or better at GCSE, leaving it at the bottom of Newham's league table. Teaching staff were demoralised and Eastlea was stuck with its "beastly" tag.

Now it has been named as one of the most improved schools in the country.

The GCSE results score is up to 37 per cent and Eastlea has been hailed by David Bell, the chief inspector of schools, as "particularly successful".

Ann Palmer, the headteacher, attributes much of the turn- around to a radical new staffing structure which dispensed with all department heads.

All curriculum and pastoral work in the school now comes under the direct responsibility of its most senior staff:deputy and assistant heads. They have the time to take on the work because many of the traditional functions of a senior management team are carried out by non-teaching staff.

A corporate services manager is responsible for site management and organising staff cover, while a director and assistant director of commissioning look after links with community groups and colleges.

Ms Palmer said the staffing structure, originally devised by the local education authority, had been identified by the Office for Standards in Education as a model of good practice and was now being adopted by other schools.

The school is divided into five "learning areas", each concerned with particular sections of the curriculum, such as science and technology. Each area is run by a deputy and assistant head. Year groups and their pastoral needs are also under the aegis of a deputy and assistant head.

The changes were introduced by the previous headteacher, Linda Powell, in 1999. Ms Palmer, who was her deputy at the time, believes that they were crucial in putting the school back on the right track.

"You get good departments and departments that are failing. If you have a middle management that is perhaps not open to new ideas and they are the ones that ultimately lead on the curriculum, then it is very hard to get progress."

Now senior staff directly manage all teaching staff, and so have active influence over teaching.

The former middle managemers at Eastlea have either left the school - around a third of teachers departed in 1999 when Ms Powell arrived - or have been given other responsibilities.

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