Help when it's lonely at the top

19th May 1995 at 01:00
Chief education officers are to launch their own training package and mutual support system as rising numbers fall foul of their political masters. During the past decade, more than 50 of the country's most senior men and women in local government have gone - almost half their number, writes Clare Dean.

The post of chief education officer is no longer a "job for life". There are fixed-term contracts and there have been dramatic switches in power from the Conservatives to Labour, with subsequent shifts in policy.

Many CEOs no longer have the traditional background of experience in local government, and Keith Anderson, chief education officer in Gloucestershire, said: "The learning curve is a steep one."

Chief education officers tread a fine line between getting on with politicians and having to provide non-political advice to the education committee, while pressures on them have intensified with the financial constraints in local government.

And survival often depends on a high level of inter-personal skills in dealing with councillors, school heads and governors.

The 36 new authorities - the unitary councils being created from next April and which now exist in shadow form - bring with them their own challenges.

For while they undoubtedly create job opportunities, the newest councils in England and Wales will be very much in the spotlight as they formulate structures and policies. And, said Mr Anderson: "Some of the people working in the new unitary authorities might not have the depth of experience or tradition."

The Standing Conference for Chief Education Officers is now working with the Society of Education Officers and the Local Government Management Board on an induction and mentoring package.

"We want to introduce mentoring because of the pressure everyone is under and because there have been casualties," said Mr Anderson.

"The turnover of CEOs is fairly high at the moment because of the pressure of the job, and I do think that the new CEOs should be able to have a more experienced colleague to talk to. It is a lonely life at the top and some mutual support can be helpful and reassuring."

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