A program to guide the guiders;School Management

13th March 1998 at 00:00
Lack of time is the most serious constraint on guidance teachers, say a majority of the profession, which is not surprising given the open-ended nature of their tasks.

The importance of well-managed guidance time was highlighted two years ago by an Edinburgh University report on Guidance in Secondary Schools and an HMI report on guidance in the Scottish Office's Effective Learning and Teaching series. These stressed the importance of deciding priorities, clarifying procedures and producing a well-planned guidance calendar. Many students were not receiving their full entitlement, because significant numbers with behavioural problems were taking up in-ordinate amounts of their teachers' time.

One solution is a software package called Managing Guidance Time - A Planning Tool, that we have developed with the sponsorship and support of the Higher Still Development Unit and Continuing Education Gateway in Glasgow. The program can quantify the time needed for various aspects of guidance and allow managers to analyse their priorities and decide how to ring-fence sufficient time for all their students at a level that is practical for the school. It can also produce figures to justify an appropriate allocation of staff time for specific elements of a school's guidance provision or to implement change.

Taking a spreadsheet and the Managing Guidance Handbook by Northern College and St Andrew's College (1994) as our starting points, we built an interactive model of the work of a school guidance team that covers most aspects of their job. It deals with vertical and horizontal guidance systems and is simple to use. Although designed for computer-literate guidance managers to use on their own, the benefits can be enhanced by appropriate training.

First the manager has to estimate the average annual time per pupil to be devoted to delivering the "basic guidance tasks" of interviewing, report writing and pastoral care for each year group. These figures can be worked out in discussion with senior management teams. Data on the caseloads for each teacher need to be keyed in, together with estimates of how long each one devotes to specific tasks such as careers and health education.

The model can then calculate the demands on individual teachers' time, putting the manager in a position to compare the demands with the time available, either for the whole team or for individuals. The program also incorporates a planning schedule for producing the school's guidance calendar. The time required for tasks can be adjusted at any stage, and the spreadsheet will show the effects immediately. These can then be discussed with the school's senior management, so that any implications for staffing and timetabling can be considered.

In one pilot exercise it took about 30 minutes for a school to enter the data on caseloads and specific tasks for nine guidance teachers. The manager was able to use the results to rearrange caseloads, restructure the calendar and present a case to senior management for increased time for one member of staff.

The package was well received by representatives of the Scottish local authorities at two national seminars in the autumn, and five authorities have arranged for us to train their guidance managers. In Aberdeenshire, all 95 guidance teachers are being trained to use it.

The program has now been published by the Higher Still Development Unit and distributed to secondary schools. We believe that, used properly and with appropriate training, it has great potential to promote the effective management and provision of programmes to secondary students.

John Burdin and Bob McMillan.

John Burdin, retired HMI, is an education consultant; Bob McMillan is assistant headteacher (guidance) at Grangemouth High School, Falkirk

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