Doing our own thing

5th September 2003 at 01:00
Many schools assume they need outside help to groom managers.

Not necessarily. Phil Revell reports

There's a common assumption that leadership and management involve extraordinary skills, and that schools need outside help if they are to develop leadership teams capable of delivering the goods.

The National College for School Leadership in Nottingham was set up to meet the need for leadership training. One east London school, Seven Kings high in Redbridge, is moulding its own future leaders.

"We felt that we could tailor-make our own course," says Lee Mortiboys, head of modern languages and, after nine years in the school an experienced middle manager. He is also a key figure in the school's leadership training programme for heads of department. "Good teachers are parachuted into the head of department job," he says.

"I worked for two different companies before entering teaching, and there's no way they would have put people into a management position without training."

Seven Kings can act with confidence on leadership issues. The last inspection waxed lyrical about the school's strengths, highlighting head Alan Steer's outstanding leadership. Governors are said to be supportive and have a good knowledge of the work of individual departments.

Seven Kings has a wide ethnic mix and a typically urban intake.

It was involved in the pilot for the NCSL's "Leading from the Middle" programme. Much of what the school offers to new and aspiring department heads can also be found on the NCSL course. "It's about leadership and delegation, team building and dealing with conflict, strategic planning and operational planning," says Mr Mortiboys. "We look at financial management and we brought in a consultant to talk about development planning. We also did something on running effective meetings.

"The difference is the local focus," says assistant head Tracy Smith.

"We've made it much more applicable to what's going on in this school.

Feedback has been really, really positive."

One teacher wanted to learn how to delegate properly. Experienced department heads leading the course highlighted the difference between handing work out and delegating responsibility for a task. "Delegate - don't instruct," was the message.

Another project being considered is to invite middle leaders to governors meetings to improve links.

Adele Rood came to Seven Kings last September as head of RE. "It can be overwhelming to start in a new school," she says. "There are so many things you have to do. But with this training you are learning from somebody else's experience. Every meeting we covered something. There was less pressure when I had a problem because I knew we were going to have a session on that. This is a much better foundation for me to move on as a head of department."

Last year the Seven Kings middle management group had 10 twilight sessions in the autumn term, plus one full in-service training day in January. It's a big school, with over 1,300 on roll, and that means that there is always likely to be a group of candidates ready for training. In the first year there were 11 teachers on the course and this year there are 12.

Other schools might imagine that only a big secondary could afford to run something like this. But Tracy Smith disagrees. "Costs have been minimal," she says. She estimates the course costs Seven Kings less than pound;1,000 a year, excluding the time of course leaders or trainees.

"We paid for some consultants, and we also took the group out to dinner as a treat," she says.

And are leadership and management extraordinary skills? "No," says Mr Mortiboys. "But most people don't understand the difference between leadership and management. Or how difficult it can be to manage."

Mr Mortiboys points out that management is about daily operation and maintenance, keeping on top of the work that has to be done. The skills here are time management, establishing priorities and delegation.

Leadership is about inspiring people and building a team.

"For the head of department, curriculum management and people management are intertwined," he says.

"Some people look at the job in terms of the curriculum and exams, but the two are linked. I don't see how you can be a good curriculum leader without being a good people leader."

So, having borrowed extensively from the national college's programme, does Seven Kings intend to provide all its middle management training in house in the future?

"I think that there's a place for both," says Tracy Smith. "We are sending people on the NCSL programmes, but every school is different, and our course is very specific to what we do here."

Adele Rood is now signed up to the NCSL's "Leading from the Middle" programme, but she values the time she spent last year with her middle management colleagues at Seven Kings.

"In department meetings in other schools a lot of the focus was on administration," she said. "Or discussion was around one specific issue, rather than about teaching and learning. With this I think I got three years' experience from 10 sessions."

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