I'm a secondary head and have just been asked to act as a consultant head at another school. I'm not sure I can do both jobs. What do you think?

5th March 2004 at 00:00
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

Ted says

Tread warily! As you know, being a head is a demanding full-time job nowadays. There have been some sad examples of heads who cheerfully gave time and energy to another school, then found their own outfit was in trouble. It is not an easy situation when this occurs, as staff feel let down, even if they agreed with the original arrangement.

On the other hand, headship is often a lonely job, so it can be useful for heads facing problems, or simply wanting a fresh perspective, when someone is brought in who is successful in another school and understands the nature of the challenges and frustrations.

Whether it makes sense for you to act as a consultant will depend on the circumstances. Is your own school running smoothly with no major problems? Will there be back-up and recognition for deputies and other staff who may have to take significant responsibility in your absence? Would you relish the assignment offered, or find it stressful?

For example, if there is a head facing a difficult problem with teachers alleged to be incompetent, and you have had recent experience of handling capability procedures in a sensitive and thoughtful manner, you could be a useful source of advice. Someone trying to deal with a merger, poor pupil behaviour, or simply finding they have run out of steam, might equally welcome that elusive quality that only true professionals can offer - empathetic objectivity.

It probably makes sense to take on a limited role first, so you can see how it might work out in practice. Try a manageable assignment, rather than an intractable, mountainous task. If it succeeds, you might do something else.

If it flops, head for the hills.

You say

Is everybody happy?

Ask the following questions:

* Is your family supportive of the extra hours you will inevitably have to work?

* Can any of your household responsibilities be passed on to other family members, or could you employ someone to carry them out?

* Do your governors see this as an exciting opportunity for the school, a chance to try out new models of management?

* Do they feel the benefits will outweigh any possible negative effects of your not being in school full-time?

* Are members of your senior management team eager and competent to take on some aspects of your role?

* Do they see it as an opportunity to re-structure management in ways which will benefit the whole school?

If the answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes, then go for it. But if the answer to some is no, then the kudos of the consultancy role probably isn't worth the brain strain of trying to do two jobs without total support from all sides.

Liz Parkinson, Cheshire

Be prepared for headaches

The invitation to act as a consultant is very flattering and a vote of confidence in your abilities as a head and in your potential to support others.

But it is very much an extra responsibility and a qualitatively different one to that of being head of your own school. Whereas in your institution you can build and lead a team that will implement change, as a consultant you will not have the same "drivers" at your disposal. Your solutions may not always be welcomed, and you may find you are a less popular figure than with your own staff; after all, consultants barely rate much above estate agents in terms of endearment.

So, you may well be bringing some very real assets to the party, but you may be left with a nasty hangover.

Sheila Mazzotti, West Sussex

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