Faculties won't do it

28th February 2003 at 00:00
The contribution of subject principal teachers is a vital ingredient in the performance of the successful school, say Don Ledingham, Sheila Ainslie, Jim Cassidy and Paul Raffaelli

COTTISH secondary schools need flatter, streamlined management structures, which will be more cost effective, efficient and successful - or so those who argue for such structures would have us believe. Reduce the number of middle managers (subject principal teachers) in a school; group subjects into faculties; and appoint faculty headscurriculum leaders so that, for example, a faculty head of humanities would replace PTs of English, history, geography, modern studies, religious and moral education.

The momentum for such orthodoxy is gathering pace but we would like to question some of the implicit assumptions behind it. The link between effective subject PTs and effective teaching and learning is established in every Effective Learning and Teaching report and Standards and Quality report on specific subjects produced by HMI since 1990. If such a close link between effective subject PTs and effective teaching and learning exists, what possible justification could there be for imposing a broader, more generic model of middle management?

One of the principal arguments for the faculty approach is that it would "eventually" cost less than the existing system. If Dunbar Grammar School, where the average age of our PTs is 44, were to appoint seven faculty heads or curriculum leaders, the annual cost over and above conserved salaries would be in excess of pound;100,000. These are annual costs which would remain for 10-15 years before retirements and resignations take effect.

Some proponents of this system point out that English schools have operated with faculty heads for many years. However, according to David Chamberlain, a representative of the Secondary Heads Association, there is little evidence to suggest that faculty heads are more effective. Many English schools are now moving back as subject specific heads of department are recognised to be a more effective means of raising attainment.

Professor Gavin McCrone's original report suggested that there were too many levels of management within Scottish secondary schools - hence the move to do away with assistant principal teacher, senior teacher and assistant head posts. Supporters of the faculty system have taken this still further by arguing that we need even more streamlining by reducing the number of PTs. But that would centralise power in the hands of a few individuals, as opposed to a structure where a large number of individuals are empowered to "lead with responsibility".

In the most recent HMI Standards and Quality report for 1998-2001, 80 per cent of PTs were identified as being good or very good. Those who were regarded as having more weaknesses than strengths often failed adequately to monitor and evaluate the work of members of their department. Yet some wish to introduce faculty heads or curriculum leaders who do not have the specific subject knowledge to become directly involved in content-related issues. It is worth noting that HMI subject inspections are undertaken by subject specialists rather than inspectors with generic responsibilities.

Unless we are going to report attainment from a cross-curricular perspective, the importance of subjects is unlikely to change. Headteachers therefore need a mechanism to effect and lead change at a subject specific level. The notion that a faculty head who does not have subject knowledge can effect substantial change is unproven.

A key foundation for the move towards faculty heads or curriculum leaders is the notion that chartered teachers will take responsibility for curriculum development. Were sufficient chartered teachers to be appointed (which remains questionable), that may well prove to be the case.

However, a factor highlighted in every Effective Learning and Teaching report is the key leadership role undertaken by a PT who will "lead" staff.

At no point in the chartered teacher documentation does it suggest that the chartered teacher will be responsible for leading other staff or be accountable for a department's results.

he faculty model is attractive in the short term in that it can address the problem of an ineffective PT by enabling a headteacher to place a faculty head in a position above them to ensure compliance and to "sort the problem out". However, there is little to gain from tackling a short-term problem by introducing a long-term, unproven structural change.

There is also little evidence to support the idea that you change cultures through structural change. There must be a significant chance that many PTs, who are not selected for a faculty head position, will step back from whole-school involvement and "leave it up to those who are being paid for it". We would suggest instead a focus on developing subject PTs' management skills along the lines of the Scottish Qualification for Headship.

Instead of a "big bang" approach, we should adopt a pragmatic strategy which makes the best use of existing PTs (who are going to be paid the salary whether they do the job or not). We can then establish a culture that prevents key staff from becoming disenchanted or negative.

The active involvement of subject PTs in the change process shares responsibility with a much larger number of staff, increasing the potential for ownership and capacity for change. We hope that schools would be allocated a points allocation, calculated by formula, from which they could develop their own management structures. We should build from a position of what we know works.

Don Ledingham, Sheila Ainslie, Jim Cassidy and Paul Raffaelli form the senior management team at Dunbar Grammar.

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