Freed to teach, or manage

15th September 2006 at 01:00
Phil Revell visits a school that from the top down has split itself into educators and strategists

Teachers who focus on teaching, and headteachers who focus on learning. It's the Holy Grail, and high on the wish list of almost everyone who works in education.

The reality is often far from that vision, with teachers having to attend a plethora of meetings on issues ranging from budgets to performance management. What, they often wonder, would life be like if they didn't have to do all this other stuff?

The answer can be found just off the M62, at Hollingworth high school in Rochdale, where Dr Paul Mortimer has built a management system that allows teachers to teach, and the head teacher to concentrate on education.

"At Hollingworth, we are recruiting a different kind of teacher," says Dr Mortimer. Faculty heads at the successful high school do not have to deal with staffing issues, or health and safety, or the budget. They don't have to meet dissatisfied parents, do lunchtime duties or take colleagues to task if their work is below par.

"Remember that most people come into the head of faculty role with no experience of management," says Dr Mortimer. "We have found a way to deal with that big jump between classroom teacher and manager."

The change came about three years ago when Hollingworth's leadership team discussed the shortage of applicants for middle- management roles in the school. They decided that the problem lay with all the baggage that accompanied the role.

"So we changed the ad - we said that they would not have to do performance management. They would not have to face parents on management issues; they would not have to deal with personnel issues, such as telling their best friend that they weren't teaching set one this year. Instead, they would advise the assistant head and the assistant head would make the decisions."

And it worked. Hollingworth suddenly found itself attracting high-quality applicants, who knew that they would be able to concentrate on teaching and learning. This may be controversial. Most experts in the field advocate giving more responsibility to middle managers, not less; the National College for School Leadership promotes distributed leadership as the centrepiece of its strategy. But Dr Mortimer is familiar with controversy. Last year he made the headlines when he suggested that his school might in future run lessons for 364 days a year.

Paul Mortimer has been a head for 16 years. He has acted as an executive head in other schools, and is an associate headteacher with the innovation unit at the Department for Education and Skills. He is an NCSL consultant leader and a national remodelling team consultant. He sits on the Building Schools for the Future steering group preparing for the extended schools programme. And last year Hollingworth was named by the DfES as a top 100 school for continued success at GCSE 5A*- C.

His latest thoughts on school leadership arise from the desperate need to attract and retain more teachers and more school leaders.

"We face a demographic time-bomb in a few years time unless we can attract the right people. The job has changed and we are not recruiting people into the new job," he says. His solution is for schools to employ two kinds of teacher. Those with curriculum responsibilities would concentrate on teaching and learning. Once people had cut their teeth as a faculty head, they would have two routes open: one would keep them in the classroom, as an advanced skills teacher, while those with a knack for management would move on to assistant head, and ultimately lead a school of their own.

This structure is carried all the way to the top: Dr Mortimer is not the headteacher: that position is held by Colin Burnett. Dr Mortimer is the chief executive of the governing body.

"The headteacher needs to lead on teaching and learning, on the day-to-day management of the school. I'm not doing that job," he says.

It is a critical distinction, because Dr Mortimer argues that it is impossible to give someone partial control over a school. They have to be legally responsible for their actions, and, in law, that means they have to be the head.

"I could have pushed to be executive head here, but I've learned that that restricts the capacity of the acting head. I don't want to direct him: I want to influence him through the governing body," says Dr Mortimer.

The idea arose out of Dr Mortimer's extensive work with other schools. He was frequently away from Hollingworth, leaving Mr Burnett in day-to-day control. He felt he was, in reality, more of a strategic consultant working for the governing body, rather than the headteacher.

"Whenever I was out, Colin would be called the head. The governors were being paid for my time out of school. That worked well, then I thought 'Maybe we could do this on an organised basis'."

Hollingworth is to be demolished as part of the Building Schools for the Future programme. It will be replaced with a learning centre that will operate as much more than a school, with the possibility of a whole range of extended services on site.

"I'm now dealing with the next school, but I have to make sure that this school doesn't slip back and that the future head of this school is fully prepared for the changes that will happen," says Dr Mortimer.

He believes that the chief executive role is ideal for the range of relationships and responsibilities being taken on by many school leaders - from school improvement partner, to executive head, to the new "national leader of education" role proposed by the NCSL.

"It leaves the day-to-day responsibility for the school with a headteacher who doesn't have to worry about the strategic aspects of the job, and allows the chief executive to work in other contexts," he says.

What the CEO looks after

School design

School organisation

Strategy and ethos

Workforce reform

Income generation

What the headteacher looks after


Student voice

Pastoral care

Staff development

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