Hang on to your expertise

5th March 2004 at 00:00
Patricia Denison Answers your leadership questions

I have recently taken up headship of a three-form entry junior school on the retirement of the previous long-standing headteacher. First impressions are of a stable, well-structured organisation which seems to run well.

However, the major post-holders, responsible for the core subjects, are due to retire within the next 18 months. How can I begin to transfer these responsibilities to younger staff without undermining the present incumbents and without paying additional management points? Incidentally, the Office for Standards in Education will be visiting in two years.

The scenario you describe highlights the need to put together a strategy for sustainability. Our teaching force is a shifting population and we are due to lose a significant proportion of staff aged 50-plus, many of whom hold senior positions.

Often, they will hold permanent management points for specific curriculum areas, such as literacy, numeracy and science. When they go, much of the knowledge the school has acquired can evaporate. This may also apply when post-holders are young, take maternity leave and don't return to work. The question for headteachers is how to continue to develop schools when the knowledge base is constantly changing.

Having recognised the situation, you are in a strong position to take action. The task is to design and adopt a plan that ensures the school carries on achieving its goals. A structure is needed that will encourage development, welcome input by new additions to the team and enable the school, when key members of staff leave, to continue to build on its strengths.

Here are some options. The teachers' pay structure recognises management responsibilities and assumes permanence. Offering additional pay on a temporary basis is not desirable, but there's a need to avoid the constraints of subject-based posts. Instead, points for taking on a significant leadership role in the school can be awarded. This should be linked to the school's strategic direction.

Subject management need not be hierarchical or differentiated into "core" (very important) and "foundation" (less important). Each teacher might have responsibility for a subject and for informing the leadership team of the need to improve or make radical changes to some aspects of learning and teaching. Once a particular aspect of learning is identified for development, a team could be formed to make the changes, and disbanded when the job is done. You might want to reward its members financially by sharing a management point on a fixed-term basis, or by ring-fencing honoraria. The advantages of managing the development process this way are that it:

* spreads and creates subject expertise;

* develops transferable project management skills;

* builds the capacity of the school to manage change;

* energises and motivates teams who design, implement, evaluate and celebrate their own work.

Have individual discussions now with your present post-holders about where you are going and the need for their full involvement in the transition.

Their initial task will be to describe the current "state of the nation" in their subject; they will need to gather evidence and attract partners prepared to work with them. This has the immediate effect of building capacity. You should end up with a comprehensive portfolio for each subject which will provide you with a starting point for further development. Your senior teachers will retire having made a substantial contribution by sharing their expertise. They will feel hugely valued, and, if Ofsted arrive, be able to present their portfolio to illustrate their work.

Patricia Denison is head of a village primary, near Woking, Surrey. She has been in education for 25 years, 14 in headship, and is a facilitator with the National College for School Leadership's new visions programme for heads. Do you have a leadership question? Email it to karen.thornton@tes.co.uk

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