Modernising school staffing structures should be done carefully to minimise chaos and distress, says Ray Tarleton.
The almost nightly TV property programmes have me hooked. They portray the interior of people's homes before and after makeovers. Covered with the accumulated clutter of years, these houses need modernising. They attract no buyers until our property expert offers a vision for renewal and transformation.
Modernising the staffing roles in our schools requires similar visionary treatment. The introduction of teaching and learning responsibilities (TLRs) offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strip out the old structures - introduced during the last review in the mid-1980s - and create posts fit for purpose.
We are now about to embark on the most radical overhaul of responsibility allowances ever undertaken. But if the leadership challenges are daunting, then the timescale is even more so.
The great unveiling is scheduled for October, with a December deadline for its implementation. But the timescale is unreasonable - especially with the many other initiatives that heads are being asked to implement at the same time.
We cannot do as the developers do and just knock down walls and bring in new furnishings. We have to deal with an entity that has to function during reorganisation, with people whose lives are locked into the fabric of the current structures.
A primary head in London lists the sheer scale and pace of current initiatives including planning, preparation and assessment time, workforce remodelling, the new Ofsted framework, the new Panda and the primary networks.
"And I still have a school to run, children to care for, parents to meet and governors to inform, with learning and standards at the top of the agenda," he says.
The timing of TLRs is brought into stark relief when heads begin to realise its implications. If they are to make the most of this seismic shift in staffing structures then more time is needed. There is a growing sense of unease and barely concealed frustration.
One primary head, from the east of England, says that in his school six posts will reduce to four, in part because of the new criteria but also because the lowest level of payment is 37 per cent higher than at present.
These roles simply have to disappear or change radically. Posts for single subjects in primary schools are now probably unsustainable.
"The demotivation of redundant one-point management allowance holders will be palpable," the head adds.
In secondary schools, where there are more promoted posts, the changes are likely to be even more radical. Using as criteria the number of staff for whom a postholder is responsible, amount of time devoted to a subject and examination accountability, the number of posts will drop dramatically.
In one school in the South, for example, the current posts will shrink from 71 to 41. Can staff share allowances to give flexibility? A head from the North was planning to do this. A close reading of the small print suggests it will not be possible.
One school has 29 of its staff on temporary allowances because all appointments since April 2004 were deemed to be short term. For this sizeable group, only half of which will be eligible for the new payments, protection extends only until the end of next year and not for three years.
Imagine how this news will be received.
The frustration and confusion caused by the timescales obscures the real opportunities TLRs present us and also underlines the need for heads to share their proposed models formally before being exposed to staff pressure.
That is where NCSL and the leadership network can be influential by allowing heads to share blueprints for wider dissemination. If the introduction of TLRs was a property programme, it would end with the developer going over budget and needing extra time.
The Department for Education and Skills needs to revise the timetable to give us space to make the most of the opportunities for renewal and transformation that TLRs will give us.
The December deadline will not be met. Time to reform needs time for reform.
Ray Tarleton is the national co-ordinator of NCSL's Leadership Network and principal of South Dartmoor community college, Devon. See www.ncsl.org.ukleadershipnetwork