Tell them what to do at the top

24th February 2006 at 00:00
Schools need to define what qualities and responsibilities they want their managers to have. Phil Revell reports

Benchmarking, evaluation or self assessment - choose your buzzwords, but looking in the mirror is something that schools are doing a great deal more of now.

The new Ofsted regime requires school leaders to have their finger on the pulse of their school. It would be a foolish head who waited for the inspection team to deliver the bad news.

Kathleen Barham, headteacher of Sheldwich primary school in Faversham, Kent, says: "Leaders need to know exactly what is going on in their school.

"We had done a lot of work in school on raising standards of teaching and learning; we wanted a clearly defined process to measure ourselves against."

That "clearly defined process" she chose was the Investors in People leadership and management model. More than 7,000 schools have achieved the basic IIP award, during which an organisation demonstrates its commitment to staff development and good employment practice.

The leadership and management model is comparatively new. In Kent, Sheldwich was invited to take part because it had had a successful first-stage IIP and a recent Ofsted report had identified leadership and management as a strength.

"A well-led school is probably a very good IIP school," says Ruth Spellman, who leads the national IIP programme.

"Good leadership is about making the best of your resources. You need passion as a leader, but you also need good organisational skills and a lot of that is about management.

"This new IIP model is not an easy benchmark to get."

The new model focuses on a school's leaders and managers. What do they do; what are their responsibilities; how effective is the leadership and management process?

"What does a manager actually do in a school? We say that a class teacher has a management role, but that is not necessarily how business defines management," says Ms Barham.

Sheldwich's IIP partner and mentor was Debbie Jones, a workforce development adviser with Business Link Kent. She says: "Schools are not businesses. They have very blurred reporting lines, and you often find that every member of the teaching staff has some kind of leadership and management role."

Businesses, she says, have a much more explicit approach to management development. "Everything will be written down. Schools are a very different environment, but I get round that by trying to speak the language; people soon realise that I know about Ofsted and that I know the difference between key stage 2 and 3."

In many schools arrangements are informal, with responsibilities assumed rather than directed. This very informality can be part of the strength of a school.

"But responsibilities do need to be recognised and identified," says Ms Jones.

At Sheldwich the process quickly had an effect. "It's had a real impact on how we do our performance management," says Kathleen Barham.

The school now thinks more carefully about the kind of personal abilities managers should have, and this is reflected when appointing them.

The IIP model takes around 12 months. It starts with an appraisal of what benchmarks a school can use, such as NPQH models of leadership and management, before the school works with its mentor.

"This has made it really clear to staff just where they are strong and where they need work," says Ms Barham.

She says it discovers things about schools that more specifically education-focused models do not reach.

"One of my staff has just completed the National College for School Leadership 'Leading from the middle' course," she said. "That's a very good course, but it doesn't clearly define the management qualities needed in a school."

The key sessions have been the interviews between staff and Debbie Jones.

Kathleen Barham describes the whole process as "challenging and rigorous".

"It's not something to enter into lightly," she says. "But this is a useful tool for schools preparing for an Ofsted inspection."

Investors in People: 020 7467 1900

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