Careers - Expanded horizons

5th February 2010 at 00:00
Teachers who like the idea of improving the schooling of hundreds of thousands of children rather than a class full should consider working for a local education authority

Teachers can influence a class of 30; heads a school of 1,000-plus. But what if you work for the local education authority (LEA)? In the Cornish secondary sector alone, that could mean driving improvement which affects more than 30,000 young people.

It was that breadth of responsibility which drove Dave Wood to swap teaching for local authority work. As a head of English at a secondary school in Staffordshire, he already had a strong interest in curriculum development and worked as an advisory teacher for the LEA. That led to a secondment at Keele University, where he worked with teacher trainees, and also took a masters degree in educational leadership.

"I started to develop an interest beyond teaching, especially in the areas of pedagogy and professional development," says Mr Wood, who is now head of children's services for West Cornwall.

He finally made the leap out of teaching in 1995, when he worked on a short-term contract for Manchester Metropolitan University on its educational leadership programme. He went to work for Stoke-on-Trent before moving to Cornwall in 2004.

"It is important to me that the quality of the work is there," he says. "I like challenge, change and difference. I found aspects of school limiting, such as being tied to a timetable. My job now has variety."

It's not known how many former teachers go on to work for their local authority, but the Association of Directors of Children's Services confirms that it is a small but important career path. At a senior level, about 70 per cent of directors and assistant directors of children's services come from an educational background. Children's trusts also have former teachers in senior positions.

However, Mr Wood believes fewer teachers are making the move. It may be because it does not provide a great leap in salary. Teachers will usually be paid more as senior managers in school than as newcomers in the local authority.

Most former teachers start their LEA life as subject advisers or national strategies consultants. Their pay will be roughly equivalent to a head of department in a secondary school, which could be pound;25,000-plus.

Another bar to working for an LEA is a lack of job security, with big structural changes promised by all parties in the run-up to the election. In Cornwall, for example, funding for strategy consultants is not guaranteed beyond April 2011.

Subject expertise and education officer jobs are also becoming less common, says Mr Wood. "It would be a great shame if we lost that expertise that teachers bring with them." He advises teachers to gain some relevant experience before they apply. "It's not for everyone, so look into securing a secondment or work alongside the LEA."

Speak to your head about opportunities, and look out for secondments on the authority's website, in the press or in The TES job pages. The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust offers teacher secondments on a range of 14-19 issues. Develop links with your school's subject adviser or school improvement partner and ask about vacancies.

When Mr Wood recruits, he looks for solid experience in school, plus evidence of working in partnership with neighbouring schools or the LEA. "If you feel it excites you, take the plunge," he says. "It's interesting and gives you an opportunity to design a system that will serve young people's development for the next 30 years."

LEA WORKING

- SEN roles: Work with those in care, SEN or excluded pupils.

- Organisational roles: Plan school builds, manage finance or school admissions.

- Raising standards: School Improvement Partners (Sips) are usually heads who help other schools.

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