Let us get on with the job, say heads

26th September 2003 at 01:00
Almost half of secondary heads and deputes who took part in a work survey said that education authorities get in the way of their ability to do their job effectively.

This startling discovery has emerged from a nationwide survey by the Centre for Educational Leadership (CEL) at Edinburgh University, which is revealed in today's TES Scotland (Viewpoint, page 30) But Fraser Sanderson, president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, denied the charge that authorities do not add value to schools. He said this was not borne out by inspections of authorities in the vast majority of cases.

The survey, based on a sample of 153 secondary heads and deputes with 10 or more years' experience of school leadership, paints a picture of professional frustration and even physical exhaustion. Most typically work a 50 to 60-hour week and 76 per cent said the pressures have increased over the past three years.

The attitudes to the authorities are "remarkable", according to Danny Murphy, director of the CEL. Some 48 per cent of those responding agreed with the statement: "My local authority doesn't add value; it takes it away by introducing an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy." That would represent the equivalent of more than 180 secondary schools if it was replicated nationally.

The survey, which echoes complaints aired at recent headteachers'

conferences, confirms the strong sense of heads and deputes that they are professionals first and middle managers second - 70 per cent agreed with this view.

Yet, Mr Murphy says, "they constantly find themselves spending more time than they consider valuable or desirable in operational, reactive management arising from situations in school and from the administrative requirements of their employers, when they would greatly prefer to give more time to strategic, educational and curriculum leadership".

The survey shows that heads would expect to allocate 75 per cent of their time to professional issues; they put the actual time spent at 8 per cent.

And, while 48 per cent of their time might be anticipated to focus on administrative matters, the actual figure is 67 per cent.

Mr Murphy, who becomes a head himself next week when he takes over at Lornshill Academy in Alloa, says the survey's findings are "illustrative rather than definitive" but point to the need to listen to growing concerns among senior school managers.

Mike Doig, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said the findings did not surprise him at a time when some heads are disillusioned about the way authorities have handled the promoted post issue. There have also been complaints about authorities not passing on funding.

Mr Sanderson, director in Dumfries and Galloway, commented: "It is a position as old as the hills that one level of an operation puts the blame on the tier above as being responsible for the ills besetting them. Even headteachers will be on the receiving end of similar comments from their staff."

He added: "It is also true that a principal role of the local authority is that of both challenging and monitoring performance in its schools - and this is a role with which headteachers are not always comfortable."

His own experience is that directorates and headteachers sympathise with the pressures experienced by each side.

Gripes galore

* A smaller authority "makes additional demands on headteachers which results in a great deal of time being spent outside school during the school day"

* ". . . the trend towards a drastically reduced senior management team and grade of principal teacher. The burden on those left will be impossible."

* "Many new headteachers are surprised by the limited intellectual demands in the job but are swamped by the sheer volume of relatively straightforward issues."

* "I get no support whatsoever from the authority - my area used to be Strathclyde and I miss the support and development opportunities very much."

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