Deputy heads

15th September 2000 at 01:00
MASTERING DEPUTY HEADSHIP: acquiring skills for future leadership. By Trevor Kerry. Pearson Education pound;16.99.

This practical, task-based book is aimed at deputy heads and those aspiring to the post in primary and secondary schools: the author believes the same processes apply in both 90 per cent of the time.

Lofty principles apart, can the job of working as part of a six-person senior management team in a large secondary with more than 80 teachers really be the same as being the sole deputy in a 10-teacher primary? Most primary deputies have a class to teach: most secondary deputies have a working life with a third or less of the teaching of their colleagues.

Having set out to be all things to all people, the author uses all means to do the job. So we have text to provide information; tables and figures to convey data quickly; lists of key issues; tasks to allow the reader to try out his or her skills; and case studies to consider. This gives the book the feel of a textbook or training manual, and perhaps it has arisen out of practical training sessions. Certainly the case studies seem chosen to give rise to discussion rather than as exemplar, and work best when followed by the author's commentary, which, sadly, appears only sometimes. I can't see any aspiring or in-post deputy wanting to follow the instruction to "retell the incident from the staff's point of view".

The philosophy is that "effective managers need skills" and clearly it is in the same ballpark as management theory books, prinkled as it is with mottoes and quotes from such alumni as Tom Peters. My favourite was:

"Learning Schools use metacognition" (a word rejected by my spellchecker). It seeks to tread a path between theorising the many faceted role of being a deputy head and being a practical manual.

The 15 chapters deal with various aspects of the role. Some work well - such as the one containing reflections on leadership - but others are too sketchy. If you really want to look at standards and quality - and you know you have to - you will need much more than there is here. Some, such as dealing with parents, oscillate between the too general and the ludicrously particular ("be careful not to accuse a parent of being an alcoholic, unless you are sure"). And how quickly books like this are doomed to date - nothing here on the monster of performance management. At times the book seems to work in a perfect world, where there is time to consult everyone; projects and initiatives are properly planned; people's feelings and needs thoroughly explored; government initiatives are carefully thought through... it is tempting to respond with despair or disdain.

Paradoxically, however, I find that is where the book's strength lies: it reflects back to you other - and sometimes better - ways of doing things you are already doing, allowing space to think about them.

Perhaps that is meta-cognition.

RUPERT TILLYARD Rupert Tillyard is a senior teacher at St Aidan's C of E high school, Harrogate, Yorkshire

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