Time and emotion

26th September 1997 at 01:00
The workload of Scottish heads has increased substantially with devolved school management. How are they managing? asks Seonag MacKinnon

When TES Scotland rang headteachers around the country to find out how they deal with the sheer volume of management workload, Eric Sinclair of Kirkwall Grammar in Orkney gave an early indication: "One of the ways of dealing with it is as now - not always giving an instant response. I'll ring back this afternoon when I'm free!" Like many headteachers, Sinclair recommends clear roles and the setting of clear goals, so that many things just slot into place. Big management issues are separated from what is routine, so that sight of the big picture is not lost.

He finds an effective way to tackle whole-school issues is to devolve power to small manageable groups of staff. The groups - fixed for a year and chaired by a member of the management team - are cross-curricular and are a mix of promoted and non-promoted staff. The aim, he says, is to break down barriers and discourage staff from being subject-bound.

Sinclair also sometimes takes on extra work by avoiding staff pigeon-holes to deliver information to teachers personally in the classroom, dropping into departmental meetings or manning the phones for a while. "There is a lot to be said for spending time just speaking to people, finding out what it is like at the chalkface. Management in education is all about dealing with human beings."

As at Kirkwall, Donald Matheson, the head of Hermitage Academy in Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute, makes contact with parents, pupils and staff his priority during school hours. He does paperwork in his office before and after the official school day. "A headteacher's job used to be more admininstration-based," says Mr Matheson. "Now people have much greater expectations and there is a much clearer understanding that it is a people job."

Matheson routinely leaves his office and all its paperwork to drop into classrooms to discuss the work going on with staff and pupils. "It upgrades the status of what is, after all, the school's key activity."

David Whyte of Golspie High, Highland, recommends delegating administration. "The biggest danger is shutting off in your office and losing touch with your staff."

When working, Mr Whyte leaves the door of his office open, so that staff know they can come in. "I try to arrange my work in such a way that I never have to say I'm too busy to speak to them."

Dr Alan Fraser of Arbroath Academy, Angus, admits to some difficulty in delegating. "The staff around me are working just as hard. Perhaps you've just got to measure the work you're trying to do. The sheer volume of initiatives we're faced with is substantial."

James Leggat at Annan Academy, Dumfries and Galloway, recommends long-term planning. "You can't achieve everything overnight. There should be year-by-year objectives, but also an idea at the back of your mind of where you want the school to be in five years' time."

Of delegation he says: "You simply can't do everything yourself. Don't be afraid to ask. There is usually a willingness to help."

He suggests being ruthless in turning down invitations for the school to participate in different activities. "To begin with, your instinct is to try to agree to help with everything. But you should only take on what you can do well. 'We are very busy right now. How about next year?' is a useful response. "

Devolved school management has added to the workload of headteachers in recent years, but Kenneth Dykes of Barrhead High, East Renfrewshire strikes a positive note. "There has been sufficient training, so we are not floundering and there are people at the council to help you.

"I don't think heads resent the time involved, as they are no longer impotent to affect change in their schools."

Maggie Pollard of Richmond Park special school in Glasgow would like to see even more financial power devolved to schools. "Perhaps most headteachers see DSM as an albatross round their necks, but I feel that if the authority trusts us with the health and safety of staff and children, then they ought to trust us more with financial decisions. It would empower us and unleash creativity if we had more control."

Glasgow's current computerised management information system, SEEMIS, is one of the main obstacles in the way of a productive working day, says Ms Pollard. "It should be making admin so much easier. We are all very technically literate here, but we find this system double-Dutch and primitive."

Graham MacKenzie of Dingwall Academy, Highland, yearns for greater collaboration between local authorities and the Scottish Office on information gathering. Headteachers can spend a lot of time submitting essentially the same figures on, for example, pupils' transport, in two or three different ways at different times of the year for different organisations. A common format for presenting information and on a floppy disc would reduce the workload.

MacKenzie would also like to see assistant heads freed more from teaching, especially in view of the extra work that the introduction of Higher Still will bring.

Janice Laurie, assistant headteacher at Edenside Primary, a 470-pupil school at Kelso in the Borders, says organisation and communication are the keys to maxiumum efficiency. Among her suggestions: * A full staff meeting on Monday mornings before children arrive.

* A weekly plan as well as news on the staffroom whiteboard

* Make sure any clipboard with information doesn't get stuck half-way round the school

* Plan activities well ahead, as planning time nearer the event can be cancelled because of a need to cover staff absence

* Timetable which groups are using which rooms, such as the hall and library, and make lists of what equipment they will need

* Think positively

* Be happy.

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