Focus on the wider picture

17th February 1995 at 00:00
Is a move into local authority inspection or advisory services still a viable option in the tough new market in which schools can choose to pay for advice, and continued employment depends on successful bids for OFSTED contracts? Early success as a primary head and an impressive HMI report led Chris Webster away from the security of his own school into a job as an inspector with Lancashire County Council. His work is now mainly focused on gifted children and those educated at home.

"I had been a head at two schools and I felt that there was nothing more to do. This coincided with an HMI inspection in which the school came out well. The report was noticed. This advisory job was pointed out to me - I won't say I was headhunted - but I applied," he said.

Chris gave up his job as head of Christchurch Church of England School in Lancaster last September. "It was another challenge. I feel that I can have a much broader effect in the advisory service. When you are a headteacher you set up the school the way that you want, but that is just one school. I'm currently adviser to 12 schools. And I'll have more later in the year.

"It's a bit more insecure, but Lancashire has always been a good authority to work for. There were people who heard I was moving and thought I was mad, but I felt I left at a high point".

Jenny Collier gave up her head's post in London to become an inspector with Essex in 1991. "As you go through headship you start to see your school as part of a wider picture. I wanted to see the wider picture. In fact, I wanted to get more in touch with the curriculum again. As a head you are really one step back; it's your teachers who are dealing with the curriculum."

But after two years as an inspector Jenny Collier went back to school. Essex was reorganised and the demands of OFSTED work and family conflicted. She was appointed head of Morley Memorial School in Cambridge. "Equal opportunities is a big issue for female inspectors. You can't go swanning off at five in the morning and stay in a hotel overnight if you've got a young family," she said.

Making the move back and forth between teaching and the advisory service is becoming tougher, according to John Perry, Salford's senior secondary inspector. "The changes in school have been so quick over the last few years. If you left the classroom before 1986 you missed the introduction of GCSE and the national curriculum".

"What's more, under LMS, governors are taking a more active role in making appointments. They are much more chary of advisers' abilities. There's sometimes a feeling that advisers are away from the sharp end for too long, " he added.

Such consideration didn't stop Pam Bell, who spent six years as an adviser, from being appointed as IT co-ordinator at Buile Hill High School in Salford. She got out of teaching when she felt she was "at a crossroads in my career". She left behind a B allowance post for a D-graded advisory post. At the time, she had no intention of returning to the class. But she said: "When I had time to think about it I did miss the contact with the kids".

In the event, Pam Bell was able to hang on to her D allowance because she was asked to carry on as a teacher consultant, co-ordinating equal opportunities and business studies for the authority and being available to teachers, for two years after returning to school.

When a post came up on Buile Hill's senior management team she applied and got the job. Her advisory experience has been valued by the school. "Having somebody with the LEA perspective on the staff comes in handy, especially when writing a bid."

There are increasing signs of stress among inspectors and advisers, many of whom are having to work longer hours to meet OFSTED tenders. And anyone contemplating a move into these services must question whether it is any longer financially worthwhile.

Since the link between heads' pay scales and the advisers' Soulbury scale was broken in 1987, many of those moving into inspection and advisory work have seen their salaries fall behind those who replaced them in schools, with knock-on effects on pension levels.

A primary head, seconded for a year to one local authority advisory team, recently had to be paid Pounds 1,000 more than the advisers' rate to match his school salary.

Inspectors and advisers transfer out of the teachers' pension scheme into the local government one but may lose some years of reckonable service when the final pension is calculated.

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