Rich seam at teaching coalface

10th October 2003 at 01:00
There are few FE colleges that can claim not to have undergone several organisation restructures over the last few years.

Whole layers of management have been stripped out and various layers of teachers have been reduced to just the simple lecturer. It is no longer possible to develop a career gradually from lecturer to L2 to SL to PL before finally deciding whether to take on a management role.

Not only has this shake-down taken place but along with it there has been a devolution of responsibilities so that more and more of the operational roles are being carried out nearer the teaching coalface.

The nature and quantity of details required about learners and their needs is such that it can only be gleaned by those who teach. These information miners just need to learn how to manage their new role.

During restructuring, many staff find themselves having to apply for something that looks like their old job with what a curriculum co-ordinating role added on. Often they have to compete for these roles against colleagues and friends; the process can be stressful. Such roles often have the name team-leader, programme manager, curriculum manager, course co-ordinator all of which suggest the role is still primarily about teaching.

Staff positioned to apply for these roles are frequently those who do not want to become managers but feel comfortable about managing a programme on which they teach. They don't see themselves as managers, especially managing money and people.

Staff further up the chain of command view the situation differently. They have taken on more management functions due to the drop in the numbers of middle managers and the need to collect and manage information, particularly on quality assurance and finance. So they expect those at the coalface to carry out the full range of management duties including managing finance, resources, information and people.

The first line managers may be slow to respond to their new role, they may be unaware of it or have not yet developed the skills to execute it.

Their managers are often frustrated by their slow response. Visiting colleges and meeting first line managers we constantly hear 'but I'm not a manager' and actually in job specification terms these staff are not.

They are often still on the lecturer scale rather than management spine and the new managerial roles have not always been made obvious to them. In reality however they need to carry out a wide range of managerial jobs.

Their managers are aware of their need to take on responsibilities but are unclear how best to encourage this. This is not a comfortable situation for either party. Both groups of staff need support and guidance and the opportunities to explore the issues with others in similar positions to develop good working examples.

Familiarity with relevant research and literature on management will not solve the problem on its own. Each institution has its own history and characteristics; staff need to be given the time to consider the issues within their specific institution with colleagues and to explore how best to tackle them.

Continuing professional development for such staff needs to consider their personal and professional development and be situationally set to align with specific organisational requirements to help bring them on.

Individual development achieved by a programme outside of, and separate from, their organisational context makes it difficult for individuals to recognise the relevance of the programme can exacerbate frustration and may miss opportunities to support continuous organisational development.

So development programmes need to be grounded in the individuals professional practice while offering insights into new and more satisfying ways of working that enable them to improve the experiences of students within their institutions.

New approaches to management development within the Centre for Excellence in Leadership are designed to address these issues.

However, even with effective management development many staff will not chose this route; they will wish to develop and extend their own professional practice of teaching and that of their colleagues.

Until an appropriate career structure that acknowledges and values this aspect of professional development is established we will be hard pressed to develop the excellence in teaching and the success for all that students deserve.

Sue Crowley is the manager of Continuing Professional Development at the Learning and Skills Development Agency

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