Primary concerns

19th January 1996 at 00:00
Middle Management In The Primary School, Neville West, David Fulton. Pounds 15.99ISBN 1 853246 344 2. The Skills Of Primary School Management, Les Bell and Chris Rhodes, Routledge Pounds 12.99 ISBN O 415 09757 6

Not many primary heads go on to 60 or beyond. Many wish to retire with "some good years of life ahead". But many head teachers simply find their job too overwhelming to carry on into their sixties. There are so many stake holders with differing and often conflicting demands. The workload and impossibility of pleasing everybody tends to make being a headteacher difficult.

One way of coming to terms with this is to accept the need to delegate and trust. As Neville West says in Middle Management in the Primary School, the age of the heroic-leader is dead. Instead the times now call for a leader with clear expectations who releases professional energies and talents.

The Education Reform Act placed an increased work load on schools and re-emphasised the need to delegate. Hence the growth of middle management. However, there is tension between the need to delegate and the difficulties facing primary middle managers who lack the twin advantages of a common subject identity and non-contact time enjoyed by their secondary equivalents.

Both books address the implications of delegation and aim to enable all those with managerial responsibility in primary schools to develop the necessary structures and skills. Neville West's book begins with middle managers, such as key stage or subject leaders, he discusses the effect that school culture and organisation have on them and distinguishes between maintenance and development tasks. He presents a framework for development, policy implementation and monitoring of quality in the curriculum-in-action before focusing on the skills needed, with examples of practice in a range of schools.

Finally he tackles self-audits, team leading, the management of change, finance and other resources, and school-based evaluation. He concludes with the often-neglected boundary management, which deals with relationships between a school and its environment, concentrating on governors and parents.

A feature of this process-orientated approach is to suggest activities to promote development through individual reflection and group discussion. This is perhaps the best way to use the book - for staff groups and individuals to work through it led by the head or deputy. West has been a head and has long experience of working with heads and teachers on management development courses.

A wider range of similar issues is tackled, but with a markedly different approach, by Les Bell, a professor of educational management and director of a school of educational and community studies, and Chris Rhodes, a county director of educational services and a registered Office for Standards in Education inspector.

The strength of their book, The Skills of Primary School Management, lies in the analysis of the various management and curriculum responsibilities and their associated roles and tasks. They couple this with providing practical guidelines for exercising these responsibilities within a whole-school management system.

The book is one of the most comprehensive I have come across. It includes valuable chapters on quality and inspection, the school development plan, managing the curriculum, human resources and the budget, and selecting and appointing staff, all with examples.

Les Bell and Chris Rhodes provide an impression of impeccable good practice and helpful classifications, but a disregard for the realities of daily school strife - the constant battle between the strategic and the immediate. Their job description for a mathematics leader, for instance, refers to two hours of non-contact time per week. In today's economic climate this is unconvincing.

However, well-thumbed copies of both books deserve a place on the primary manager's shelf. They are written in non-condescending and informed language and will, I hope, contribute to my development rather than gentle decline.

* Eric Meadows is head of Westdene Primary School, Brighton, and also course tutor in educational management with the Open University.

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