Ease the workload

6th September 1996 at 01:00
Schools are looking at better ways of using senior staff.

The workload of both heads and deputies has increased considerably over the past few years - there are more governors' meetings; curriculum planning and monitoring is more intense; assessment and record-keeping have to stand up to outside scrutiny; parents need more of the school's attention.

The latest workload survey carried out by the school teachers' pay review body found heads and deputies working up to 23 per cent longer than classroom teachers and even more hours than they were two years ago. Primary deputies in particular have increased their average workload by more than two hours to 54.5 hours a week since 1994, although secondary heads work longest, clocking up over 61 hours a week.

The most creative response a school can make is to look at whether staff are doing appropriate work. Does it make economic sense for heads and deputies, given the increased management demands and their relatively high salaries, to be, as the review body's survey shows, teaching even longer hours than two years ago? Are senior teachers doing low-grade clerical work? Is the hierarchy flexible enough to allow the leadership strengths of main-scale teachers to come through?

Some schools are looking at how best to use and develop staff. At Garibaldi School in Nottinghamshire Bob Salisbury, the head, "reduced the number of deputies, took out all the heads of faculties, reduced the heads of year, and got rid of all assistant heads - and above all saw the motivation and development of all staff as our greatest asset". Sidney Stringer Community College in Coventry is using an administrative officer to provide the support that enables teachers to do their job better.

The Secondary Heads Association recently sent a questionnaire to a wide range of secondary schools asking for details of management changes. The results have just been published by SHA in Managing the Workload by Margaret Beardsley and Vivian Parker.

The idea, according to Margaret Beardsley, came from SHA's deputies committee. "The feeling was that the workload of the management team was increasing to the point where they could get bogged down, so we decided to just look at how schools were being managed."

One insistent theme that came out is that of teamwork. As Margaret Beardsley says, "The days of the autocratic head have gone." But there is still a need to ensure that the senior management team itself does not become what she calls "a management citadel".

The book suggests that the "top corridor" mystique might still be a problem. "The traditional view of the SMT as head and deputies is still notably prevalent especially where there are three or more deputies." An alternative way forward, the authors report, is to have "a flexible senior management structure around the inner core (supported by) senior teachers and perhaps senior support staff". There is then a "shedding of some of the functional aspects of the role of the deputy to senior teachers and middle managers".

Sadly the SHA questionnaire seems to have unearthed relatively little evidence of really creative thinking about management teams - the wholesale dismantling of traditional structures and the use of task teams for specific areas, for example, with leadership based on aptitude and commitment rather than on seniority. Such things are happening - at Garibaldi, for example, where Bob Salisbury talks about "bobbing corks" - people being permitted to rise to leadership unhindered by assumptions about hierarchy. But elsewhere, as Managing the Workload says, "The traditional roles and responsibilities are still there." This may point to a reluctance to move away from existing management structures. Or it may simply point to the fact that classroom teaching has also become more demanding. Primary teachers are working up to two hours longer a week on average - most of it out of the classroom. Their secondary colleagues' hours have also increased, though mostly through additional contact time. With more paperwork to be done and more numbers to be crunched, such additional staff that have been taken on are often administrative.

The time heads spend on administrative tasks has almost halved in two years. The SHA questionnaire dredged up an interesting collection of titles for new schools administrators: "senior adminstrative assistant", "principal administrative officer", "business manager", "premises manager" and "bursar". Caretakers become site and services or facilities managers.

Some schools, however, according to Margaret Beardsley, are cautious about these new, higher-powered administrative posts. For one thing, "You need a very special person or you end up with highly paid clerks." And, indeed, heads and governors sometimes make such appointments before they have a sufficiently clear idea of what the person might be asked to do. The classic error is to appoint someone with a financial background and then, as an afterthought, expect them to act also as manager of the caretaking and cleaning staff - an onerous task for which being a bank official, say, may be inadequate preparation.

At least on the evidence of Managing the Workload governors seem to realise now that you have to pay real money for good adminstrators. "Paid on the same scale as the deputies" is one example. "Pounds 24,000" is another. Better communication, with the use of IT, has had attention in many schools, according to these authors, and they have also noticed an increase in staff briefings and pre-school meetings. Consultation is also much higher up the agenda generally - though again, the implication of much that is reported is that what passes for consultation may fall short of true participation. The school Policy Advisory Group described in the book is presumably quite deliberately not called the Policy Making Group.

All the same, the book's authors are clear on "the importance of taking the staff with you - many heads are going to great lengths to do this". Whatever else recent reforms have done, they have forced heads and governors to look at how their schools are being run. As yet, no one has hit on a definitive way of doing it.

Managing the Workload from SHA at 130 Regent Road, Leicester LE1 7PG, price Pounds 7.50. Gerald Haigh is editor of The TES Guide to School Management, a compilation of school management articles from The TES, including features on Garibaldi School and Sidney Stringer College. The guide is published later this autumn by Butterworth Heinemann.

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