System rewards the bad manager

18th June 2004 at 01:00
There are often stories in these pages about how effective management has turned a school round.

Effective management seems to be described in one of two ways: the first no-nonsense management, creating robust systems which weed out inadequate staff; the second fantastically charismatic "sharing a vision" strategic leadership, which raises all teachers on a new plateau of performance.

I want to talk a third way of managing not trumpeted on such pages: difficult or inefficient middle managers in teaching are not sacked, nor are they transformed into efficient ones. Instead they are taken off the case, given a fancy title, where they do nothing for their responsibility points and are softly marginalised. Somebody else is left to do the real work.

And their inefficiency reaps rewards: such middle managers have glowing references written for them so that the school can offload them, usually as a promotion, still further up another school's hierarchy.

I line-manage two such people: one has been redeployed to an education action zone, losing his head of faculty responsibility but gaining extra allowance points. But there are no management responsibilities in his new job, beyond managing his own teaching load.

The second beneficiary was a disastrous special needs co-ordinator, who was given more money and the title "manager for social exclusion". This carried no daily responsibilities but so much kudos that he has now gained swift promotion to the senior management of another school. In both cases, the school had to spend money appointing others to do the real work.

So why weren't these two ineffectual middle managers inspired or shamed into doing the job properly? Well, heads are reluctant to take competency procedures against middle managers. It is time-consuming and hard to prove.

Time spent in tight management of inefficient people can often best be used doing the job yourself or diverting it to somebody else.

One head I worked with, who was quite hard on poor staff, said that competency was provable in the case of bad teaching but much harder in the case of poor management.

Perhaps the key to the success of the two colleagues I have described is that they are reasonable teachers but not reasonable managers. The day that they were promoted to head of department status was the day they went beyond their ability.

The way they have been dealt with is probably the most common way of managing poor middle managers in secondaries.

The author is a senior manager in London secondary school

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