A winning team boosts everyone

17th January 2003 at 00:00
Do your senior managers give sufficient support to staff working on extra-curricular activities? Sean McPartlin reports

It would be theoretically simple to produce a handbook for senior managers, with an audit of job and personnel specifications which managers could self-assess. However, such a handbook - and one may well exist - would be only of limited use in schools.

While a book could adequately cover the formal requirements of successful management, it could not begin to hint at what might be termed, for managers and schools, the "hidden curriculum".

An effective management team does more than lead. It encourages, it listens and it plans. While it needs to be proactive, there are times when it requires the sensitivity to be reactive to issues that are important within the school community. For this reason, it is not uncommon to find, especially at assistant headteacher level, managers who have devoted most of their careers to one school.

They have an understanding of the school community, rooted in years and commitment, and can be an invaluable source of strength, provided they are willing to be flexible and accept change, and assuming there is also fresh blood on the team.

There are whole areas of school activity, often not directly evaluated in examination results, that require strong backing and encouragement from the management team if they are to flourish. The examples are many, but perhaps what might loosely be termed the "creative and aesthetic" area is a good example.

If the school's sports teams are successful, if the music department wins prizes and drama division produces successful shows, the whole school benefits. Clearly, the pupils involved are honing skills that can be translated into examination results; they are also gaining self-confidence and being encouraged to flourish in the light of well earned praise. However, the effect runs far beyond this.

The ethos of the school is seen as successful, the school's standing in its community is enhanced and the staff, in return for long hours and commitment, receive the satisfaction of a job well done and, hopefully, some public recognition of their coaching skills.

The higher the level of attainment in these areas, the more preparation and support is required, and even the most dedicated of staff need to know their efforts are appreciated, recognised and supported. In this area, the task of the management team is obvious and crucial.

It really is not sufficient to turn up at prize-giving ceremonies looking pleased and distributing pats on the back. Staff and pupils who are producing success in these areas need practical backing and, above all, genuine enthusiasm from the senior management.

It is a long road from arranging rehearsal rooms to a full house, from transportation of music equipment to an international band competition prize, and from checking sports facilities availability to medal or cup success at regional or national meetings. It seems less than fair to expect staff to operate extra-curricularly at this level without involvement from the senior management.

Within link management, individual managers should be named as the person responsible for liaising with staff in all these areas. Music, physical education or drama staff should be in no doubt about who in the management team to approach if they need additional help or backing, whether it is for a specific event or for ongoing resources, and the "hidden curriculum" should be almost a standing item at management team meetings.

In many cases, this extra help is - whisper it - financial. Who would want to make a decision between providing extra books or instruments, between more computers or stage lights, or between transport costs to competitions or improved photocopying facilities?

These are difficult choices but it is the management team's task to have a balanced, overall view of the needs of the school community. Often the positive atmosphere from a winning team or performance can raise attainment across wide areas simply by letting staff and pupils feel the self-confidence that comes from being part of something successful.

So, effective management teams put resources where the applause is and not only recognise the efforts of the staff and students but also give them the backing to achieve success and the confidence to keep on aiming higher. Inside and outside the classroom, the message is the same: enthusiasm from management leads to success in the rest of the school.

As a convenient management handbook might have it, a good manager is a good cheerleader!

Sean McPartlin is assistant head at St Margaret's Academy, Livingston

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