Close advisers that heads can trust

24th January 1997 at 00:00

There is no shortage of inspirational works exhorting senior staff in schools to abandon management for leadership. While vision and long-term target-setting are crucial for a successful school, many day-to-day management issues require a practical solution and both these books, in their different ways, attempt to meet that need.

The Times Educational Supplement, with Butterworth-Heinemann, has done heads and deputies a good turn by bringing out two books of articles which have appeared in The TES. If, like me, you stockpile The TES until you find an afternoon where, with nothing better to do, you cut them up and file the most useful, you will welcome these "best of" compilations where the work has been done for you. The outcome also fits more neatly on a shelf.

In The TES Guide to School Management, Gerald Haigh has brought together 40 short articles and grouped them under broad themes: Total Quality, Managing People, Managing the Premises, Information Technology and Managing Finance. Most of the articles were originally written by him and, as he is one of The TES's most consistently clear writers, this is a wise choice. The articles are brief and relevant to everyday management issues and he has rounded off a number of them by producing check lists for action.

The sections devoted to raising standards of pupil performance and to personnel issues are the most useful. The short articles on Managing School Finance do not do justice to this topic and readers will need to look elsewhere for guidance.

As an admirer of the "Archimedes" column in The TES, I was pleased to see this compilation, The TES Guide for Heads and Senior Staff, where the author has grouped the questions and answers under thematic headings. They cover many of the problems I had to deal with when I was a headteacher and others which I was glad not to have faced. Archimedes deals with them in his "agony aunt" style - concisely, practically and erring on the side of caution.

He has the difficulty faced by all who try to answer in a generalist paper questions submitted by individuals with specific problems. There is always more behind the question than the enquiry suggests. He has linked his answers to readers' questions with his commentary. Typographically, it would have been helpful if this had been made more distinguishable.

The recurrent theme of the book is that, although there are more regulations surrounding the educationist than ever before, the test of a course of action is: "is it reasonable under the circumstances?" Reasonableness, the author points out, cannot be narrowly defined and in the end it is only the courts that could decide but he falls back on the consensus of wisdom brought forward from many years of handling problems faced by senior staff.

He reminds us that our first duty is to educate pupils, even if that means that the going might get rough with colleagues. He also urges us to think through the longer term implications of any decision we are about to make, rather than always responding with a rush of blood to the head.

One refreshing feature is that Archimedes is honest about the negative reactions he has had to some advice he has given and he sometimes includes a sequence of correspondence which explores a theme more deeply.

One of the difficulties of giving advice in print is the time-lag between writing and printing. With changes swirling around us, advice can soon be quickly out-of-date (for example, on pensions and redundancies) but we can scarcely expect Archimedes to have the wisdom of foresight as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of current educational law.

Both these books merit a place in the head's office, with access by deputies and other senior staff. It is to Gerald Haigh that they will turn as they think creatively about the school development plan but it is to Archimedes that they will turn in a time of crisis. In neither case will they be disappointed.

Peter Downes is a former president of the Secondary Heads Association and is an independent educational consultant

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