New mantra: management time must be protected

7th May 2010 at 01:00
Bill Maxwell reassures heads that cuts will not compromise vital place of effective leadership

The new head of the inspectorate has taken a tough stance on management time in schools, threatening to expose councils that cut it so much that leadership suffers.

Reduction in management time due to financial constraints was one of the major concerns voiced by heads and deputes at the Educational Institute of Scotland's headteachers' conference last week.

Dugal Campbell, a primary head in Perth and Kinross, challenged the EIS to "encourage" local authorities to increase school leaders' management time, and called on Education Secretary Michael Russell to produce "guidance".

Mr Campbell's school had a budget of pound;1.5 million, 460 children, 55 staff and an autism unit, but he would have been the only member of staff without a class had the authority stuck rigidly to staffing ratios, he revealed.

In future, as the financial situation worsened, this was a very real threat, he said.

Local authorities had autonomy over funding decisions and changes could only be made through consensus, Mr Russell told the conference.

But Bill Maxwell, in one of his first public appearances since becoming senior chief inspector, offered some reassurance.

"I think, given the national monitoring role HMIE has, if we are seeing local authorities cutting time so far it's making it impossible for schools to deliver effective leadership, we should be saying so publicly and feeding back the reality on the ground to the policy-makers."

Very good leadership, particularly distributed or shared leadership, was one of three factors crucial to the successful implementation of Curriculum for Excellence, Dr Maxwell said. The others were good continuing professional development and making use of the experiences and outcomes.

But to develop such approaches, managers needed time to "empower staff", he acknowledged.

When HMIE visited schools after August, they would be evaluated against "indicators of progress" agreed on by the CfE management board, continued Dr Maxwell.

He told heads not to shy away from innovation for fear of being "clobbered" in inspection. As long as planning and monitoring were evident, they would not be penalised, he promised.

Dr Maxwell was "taking stock" of the current inspection system, he continued, with new proposals expected by the autumn.

Mr Russell had described HMIE's new chief as "sympathetic to the non- judgmental approach" to inspection. But some heads were sceptical. One said that some inspectors and local authority quality improvement officers were "complete dinosaurs that don't do dialogue". Another felt that How Good Is Our School? was "like the Bible and the Koran, a good document", but not when it was "in the hands of fundamentalists".

There was, however, a smattering of positive reports from some headteachers whose schools had recently been inspected.

Curricular confusion

The Education Secretary's message to headteachers was clear: get on with implementing the new curriculum.

Schools had known for years that Curriculum for Excellence was coming; they were not emerging from the jungle after 40 years to find a new world, he told the EIS conference.

Mr Russell made the comments in response to a question from Karen Prophet, headteacher of Firrhill High in Edinburgh. As the lead officer for CfE in the city, she was enthusiastic about the changes but it was the scale of the challenge and the time to deliver that she took issue with.

"It's not that it can't be done or taken forward - it's simply about pace and planning of change," she said.

The EIS supports the introduction of the new curriculum but has been calling for the new examinations, due to be introduced in four years, to be delayed.

Mr Russell, however, remained unmoved. "It's about prioritisation," he declared. "We are not expecting everybody to do everything at once - that's the basis of management."

A number of support measures were now in place, Mr Russell told the conference. He announced that former directors of education Keir Bloomer and David Cameron were producing simplified versions of the Building the Curriculum documents - dubbed "Curriculum for Excellence for Dummies" by one head.

Mr Russell reiterated his offer of tailored support for schools, set out in March as part of a 10-point action plan to ensure schools were ready to ring the changes from August.

But the heads claimed they had no idea how to access this support. One said he had asked his authority, only to be told they would not know until they attended some continuing professional development in the central belt.

Funding and lack of clarity remained major concerns for the school leaders. One primary head talked of having pound;600 to run a school of 200 children for a year. Another spoke about a council overspend that led to thousands being clawed back from schools in February.

Curriculum for Excellence was more expensive to deliver than the normal curriculum, a secondary depute head pointed out.

Lack of information about examinations remained a problem, they continued, with one head commenting: "Parents ask me what these exams will look like and I tell them what we are doing in S1, S2 and S3 will prepare them fully - while I cross my fingers behind my back."

Another delegate said: "I'm glad my son has gone past that stage."

Others commented that they thought they understood what was being asked until the new National 4 qualification was revealed to be a 160-hour course.

"If you work back from that, it means it would have to be studied over two years, so what happens to the broad general curriculum in S1 to S3?" a secondary head asked.


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