Advisory capacities

31st January 1997 at 00:00
To join the booming numbers of consultants, you need personal contacts as well as management skills, says Helen Horne. Training and advice in schools used to be provided by local education authorities. Now, because of the growth of grant-maintained status coupled with delegation to locally managed schools, most schools determine their own training needs.

The swelling ranks of the prematurely retired, as local authorities "downsize" and schools seek "efficiency savings", has led to a mushrooming of both individual and group consultancies. Increasing numbers of teachers are selling advice and training as education consultants. Most build on the experience gained, confidence built and contacts made either by working for an LEA or as a headteacher.

Anthony Pierce of the Primary Focus consultancy in Cheshire took this route. As a primary headteacher for 10 years, he was seconded, on fixed-term contracts, to the Counselling and Careers Development Unit in Leeds. After several years he decided to start his own business.

Pam Peart, a former head of science, set herself up as an equal opportunities consultant after a short secondment to Northumberland LEA. Sue Gallagher's career took a similar turn. She gained her management skills as an adviser on the Technical, Vocational, Educational Initiative in Cumbria. She admits that it was her work in the LEA that gave her the necessary breadth of vision needed to work as a consultant.

Sue Gallagher now specialises in 14-19 developments, particularly GNVQ. Part of her time is spent organising conferences for a company called Schools and Further Education (SFE). She also acts as a project manager and coordinator in many schools.

As James Parker of SFE explained, most recruitment for its training programmes is carried out by personal recommendation and a large network of contacts.

This pattern is repeated at the training and consultancy section of NFER Nelson. Its head of consultancy, Christine Thomas, also relies heavily on word of mouth referrals, recommendations and networking. She agrees too that recruitment of teachers below senior management status is rare.

As well as management skills, it is necessary to have a range of business and marketing skills in order to succeed as a consultant. Before starting work, research into the market - and your role in it - is essential.

Other skills needed are similar to those used in good classroom management and effective teaching. Running in-service sessions on training and staff development programmes requires communication skills. Effective questioning, sensitive negotiating, analytical objectivity and sound evaluation techniques are all helpful, whether you are dealing with students or adults.

With the growth of LMS, schools have to provide what are essentially business plans, in the form of school development plans. Schools must now prioritise needs and set targets for action.

Schools will increasingly need management consultants to train at all management levels. With in-service training no longer provided free by the LEAs, there is also an ever-growing need for training providers to improve school effectiveness at all levels.

At present, despite increased demand for training, it is still necessary to have the breadth of vision, which a spell with an LEA provides. However, as the number of professional consultants increases, a career structure may emerge that allows classroom teachers, after a few years' experience, to enrol with a company and train to be a consultant.

JOBFILE: EDUCATION CONSULTANCY

* Terms and conditions: as a consultant under the LEA, OFSTED or Investors in People, you can expect clear terms and conditions. Working completely as a freelance or for an agency means you are self-employed, and therefore fees are negotiable. Typical rates are Pounds 300-Pounds 400 a day for workshops, or Pounds 50 an hour (excluding travel and planning).

* Job description: range of activities - various, including running workshops, needs assessment, formal training, one-to-one interviews, advising senior management teams and governors, drawing up bids for funding project management and organising conferences.

* Relevant experience: general management experience in schools, previous training experience, some evidence of credibility in the area of expertise you are offering. The typical route into consultancy is via senior management or an LEA.

* Job satisfaction: all the advantages and disadvantages of being self-employed. Advantages (depending on your perspective) include opportunities for travel, irregular hours, challenging, flexible and different work. Disadvantages: lack of security, anxiety, isolation and uneven or irregular income.

* Professional support: the Society of Education Consultants publishes a code of practice for members and a directory of consultants for potential clients. Enquiries: Rita Russell, 256 Longfellow Road, Coventry CV2 5HJ, 01203 442701.

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