There may be fewer of them, but advisers are needed now more than ever, says Phil Revell.
Why would anyone want to be a local authority adviser, or inspector as they are known in some areas? To say they've had a rough ride over the past few years would be an understatement.
First they were accused of being solely responsible for everything that is wrong with teaching methods. Politicians and the press painted a picture of left-wingers infiltrating schools and forcing helpless teachers to abandon phonics and sit the children in groups to learn by themselves. Then the local management revolution forced authorities drastically to cut back on their salary bills, which for many authorities meant a slimmed-down advisory team. More recently, they have metamorphosed into reviled OFSTED inspectors. Teachers who once looked forward to help and encouragement from their advisers await a visit in much the same way that one looks forward to root canal surgery.
How true is all this? Certainly, the image of the left-wing radical doesn't sit comfortably with the reality of the advisers with whom most teachers are familiar. It doesn't describe Chris Warn, for example, who is head of the advisory service in Shropshire. Warn feels that the advisory service still has an essential role. There may be fewer openings for advisers these days but he believes government policy means that, "LEAs will continue to have a function in monitoring and in quality assurance".
This is supported by Colin Banwell, of the advisory team for Cornwall, where 90 per cent of secondaries and 86 cent of primaries have chosen to buy into the advisory service. But the role involves more than monitoring standards. Colin Banwell is convinced that only an advisory service can generate the information networks that schools need to keep abreast of good practice.
Given the pressure teachers face, they need the support of the service more than ever, Chris Warn says, and there is "plenty of evidence that we are welcome in schools". But the role has changed. Nearly all advisory services now ask applicants to be OFSTED qualified or willing to undergo the necessary training. Many advisory services, such as Shropshire's, are supported by income from inspection contracts. But it is not just to generate income that prospective advisers need to be OFSTED-qualified. Colin Banwell echoes the views of other advisory services when he says: "We need to have experience of inspection to gain an understanding of the standards required. It allows us to focus on that aspect of our work."
Smaller teams need more flexible members, and advisers are now expected to work in both primaries and secondaries and to contribute to whole school management issues in a way the traditional subject adviser was not. That has an impact on the kind of teacher that advisory services are looking to recruit. In the past the typical adviser was just a successful practitioner. Today, services are looking for wider experience. Research or examination work allied to management experience is now as important as proven teaching ability. Fred Corbett, an adviser in Essex, feels it is important that people can demonstrate that they have "looked beyond their own school".
Despite the fact that teams are smaller now, there are still openings. Colin Banwell says: "Job satisfaction is very high, and workload is very high; you can cope with one if you have the other."
An adviser's job is often a route to other posts. Chris Warn says: "Successful deputy heads can use advisory posts as a stepping stone to headship." Other advisers have moved into research, set up their own freelance OFSTED teams or gone on to local authority administration.
The really ambitious need look no further than an adviser who left the Norfolk advisory service in 1975. She is currently the Secretary of State for Education and Employment.
JOB FACT FILE
ADVISERS AND INSPECTORS
CONDITIONS OF SERVICE
These are agreed by Soulbury Committee, the only national collective bargaining committee left in education. Advisers "perform a wide range of duties involving education, organisational and management issues".
Advisers are responsible to the principal adviser, who normally reports and is responsible to the chief education officer of the authority. Senior advisers' posts "carry substantial responsibility. Postholders may direct the work of a group of advisers or carry responsibilities substantially beyond those appropriate for advisers". Principal advisers "carry managerial responsibility for the advisory service".
This is similar to the process applied to teachers. It is not linked to pay.
Number of LEA advisers and inspectors 199495
London 512 Metropolitan districts 608
Counties (EnglandWales) 1,528
HOW MUCH DOES IT PAY?
Spine point Range Level 5-11 Pounds 25.443-Pounds 30.000 Adviser 12-18 Pounds 30.756-Pounds 35.310 Senior adviser 19-30 Pounds 36.075-Pounds 44.424 Principal adviser