Finding time to manage

21st September 2001 at 01:00

' A fundamental issue for a lot of failing headteachers is surely time management. They get too easily distracted. And yet they're there presumably because at some stage they convinced somebody that they've got a philosphy, a vision.

Basically my job is to help headteachers to rediscover how to take a school forward.

I was acting head in a school and I'm no magician. I certainly didn't do anything wonderful, but within two weeks the caretaker remarked:'You don't have a stream of children all day, do you?' I'm not saying that there weren't days when it was absolutely hectic, but somehow I was able to sit there and work on an action plan and work at strategic issues.

People need to be extremely careful with the way they manage their diaries, and they need to learn to leave enough space to be able to react. And you must be proactive in identifying what you need to do.

My philosophy was that nothing - other than the direst emergency - would stop me from doing my classroom observations. Nine times out of 10 , these are the things that get cancelled.

As a headteacher, you also have to realise that if people can dump a behaviour issue at your door they will do so. They may not have the strategies to deal with the discipline problem, but nine times out of 10 they do. And it's your time they're wasting.

Most heads - even those who really are on the edge- will usually be able to tell you what's stopping them from moving forward - "Well it's this, this, this, and this; my bursar's not working effectively; I don't have sufficient office staff; I need a non-teaching deputy and so on."

Some of those things have huge financial implications - but it's really a question of looking at priorities.

Releasing a deputy to support you more is increasingly needed in schools. Heads and governors often feel guilty about doing that, but with a little bit of rejigging it can often be done fairly easily - taking an odd hour here and an odd hour there from other staff. It's far better to give a major block of time to somebody to do such an important job. Often it's the right way forward in terms of supporting staff.

My job is to help heads to define their role and give them ideas for tackling their priorities. Every school now has a behaviour policy, but it has to be monitored: checking behaviour logs weekly, monitoring which children come up regularly, what the teacher and the school are doing about it - basically ensuring that the policy is being adhered to. Unless heads have got quality time to go into classrooms, they're not going to know, are they?

You can offer schools too much support - and there's lots of quality advice out there. But if there are too many people going in offering support, schools might pick up mixed messages, although they shouldn't be if they have the confidence to filter the advice they're getting.

You've got to be looking at a very specific thing in each school: the quality of teaching, development planning, leadership issues - and have a different focus each time. There is also a tendency to go in and try to cover everything.'

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