Promoted posts should not be a lottery

9th January 2004 at 00:00
It's traditional, at this time of the year, to be generous with praise as well as festive gifts but my Scrooge side is blowing these cliches right out of the water. The target? The new management structures in Scottish secondary schools.

The adverts for promoted posts in this newspaper tell the story. Every form of job title imaginable appears, from the straightforward principal teacher of whatever-the-subject to business managers, curriculum managers, not forgetting other mysterious combinations. There is no uniformity. A perfect scenario for running to your local Ladbrokes to get odds on what bizarre structure your nearest secondary school will dream up.

Far too much is left to chance. While I am not habitually a pessimistic soothsayer, I have serious reservations about the ad hoc way new management structures are proliferating in schools. Within my own local authority, it is possible that each of the secondary schools will end up with a different system of promotion.

This means that there can be no national frame of reference for promoted posts or comparable salary scale. A detrimental effect of this will be an inevitable reduction in the pool of suitable candidates willing to apply for promoted posts outside their own authority. People want some clarity of career structure, not the obfuscation which characterises the present system.

Another worrying problem - flagged up for me by colleagues farther down this road - is the fact that, at principal teacher level, many of us have already been promoted to the potential of our competencies. Surviving at the principal teacher point is one thing, but to be asked to do any more will, in many cases, illuminate the extent of the endemic lack of training.

That is the problem. Promoted staff receive little training in management skills. When I was appointed to my job several years ago, I signed up to a course for new principal teachers but I am still waiting.

Consider this. With the new management structures, people are suddenly expected to be wizards at, to name but two examples, finance and personnel management.

In many schools the financial structures are archaic beyond belief. In some schools, a principal teacher wanting to be reimbursed for a textbook bought for the department with personal money must complete a travel expenses form and claim the book in the subsistence section. Ridiculous! So, not only is training pretty well non-existent, local authorities and schools have a long way to go to develop even half- decent systems of finance.

As for personnel management, with its various components of what is legal, pastoral and just plain old common sense, I am not aware of any meaningful training offered to any principal teacher at the moment, never mind anything dynamic enough to allow them to slot into roles with even more responsibility for staff. This is disturbing indeed.

Nothing is more important in schools and, if I may say so, education departments, than how people are treated on a personal level. Yet other organisations spend time and money training their people in relationship techniques and tactics aimed at how to get the best out of people. Not in schools. We just hobble along miserably, sometimes getting it right but more thanks to luck than proper training. Anecdotal evidence suggests that people skills are simply not valued enough. A friend, for instance, whose father died several weeks ago is still waiting for her headteacher to offer his condolences.

With the new emerging structures, many current principal teachers are being promoted because they just happen to be in the right place at the right time. This is deplorable. Account must be taken of their suitability and, crucially, their capacity to support, enthuse, inspire and motivate. If you don't have these skills you shouldn't be seeking promotion. Come to think of it, you shouldn't be in teaching.

Marj Adams is principal teacher of religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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