When two into one won't go

17th March 1995 at 00:00
Neil Merrick on the problems teaching staff face when they move to management.

Two years ago Linda Sykes was a lecturer who was also in charge of her college's business and information technology section. Now she is a junior or first-line manager who also happens to teach.

Although she is still head of the same section, part of the business and computer studies department at the College of North East London, her management role has expanded dramatically in response to the new pressures facing all FE colleges.

Ms Sykes is allocated 16 "contact" hours per week, although some of that is spent on staff development work rather than teaching students. Her management role takes up the rest of her time, including deciding where staff should be teaching and considering how much money should be spent on IT equipment.

As most decisions are taken in consultation with colleagues, the process takes even longer. "I still carry a substantial teaching load while there is on-going curriculum change," she says. "You can end up feeling that you can't do either job to the best of your ability because there are not enough hours in the week."

Principal Ian Macwhinnie is aware that senior college managers are not the only ones under strain following incorporation and the subsequent drive for expansion. "Junior and middle managers are facing just as much if not more. " As president of the Association for College Management, he believes more recognition should be given to their workload.

Linda Sykes's section includes nine full-time and six part-time staff who together earn in the region of Pounds 250,000 per year. "Those colleagues are being confronted with the imperative of growth and a rapidly changing curriculum."

"Effective management of that workload and all those staff can make an enormous difference to the efficiency of the organisation. Managers are also placed in a position of having to make difficult decisions with people who are close-working colleagues."

Ms Sykes says some staff have resisted change. "You are the first line they can kick out at." Yet she also relishes her expanded role. "I'm starting to feel that I get a greater challenge from management than from bread and butter teaching. If you had asked me two years ago, I would have said I got more out of teaching."

The College of North East London has the equivalent of 4,200 full-time students and 330 teaching staff spread across seven sites. Its corporate management committee is made up of Mr Macwhinnie, two vice-principals and three heads of faculty, all of whom are seen as senior managers.

Each faculty is divided into two or more departments which are subdivided into sections. Heads of department are deemed to be middle managers, with the men and women who head a series of cross-college teams such as finance, personnel, school liaison and staff development.

According to Mr Macwhinnie, the eight heads of department must focus on students and courses. "They need to know the labour market and the curriculum changes," he says. "They must co-operate with the admissions team in getting students into college and check that quality courses are being delivered once they arrive."

One of the most difficult tasks facing a head of department is deciding the viability - or not - of a teaching group. "It's upsetting for members of staff to feel they have spent a lot of time developing a course but you are taking it out because it's not recruiting," says Ken Thornton, recently appointed head of the built environment faculty.

Terry Kill, head of the staff development team, says many first-line managers have been thrown in at the deep end. "We have not got a tradition in education of training people into management."

Nevertheless, the college has committed itself to spend 1 per cent of its annual salaries bill - equivalent to about Pounds 160,000 - on training. About 25 per cent will be devoted to management training.

Mr Kill spends two hours a week teaching, although this may increase to four once he has overseen the introduction of appraisal throughout the college. Like most other managers, he is forced to prepare lectures and mark students' work in his own time.

"I feel guilty if I spend part of my working week preparing or marking. You start to feel that should be done at home," he says. "Once you become a manager, teaching students appears to be of secondary importance."

Mr Kill believes departments and sections within colleges are becoming increasingly hierarchical. It is more difficult, for example, for first-line managers to have a casual drink with colleagues. "Heads of section have had to remove themselves from the social environment."

Linda Sykes has also noticed significant changes in her relationships with colleagues. Last year a teacher in her section faced disciplinary action for poor performance. "As the first-line manager I had to be tough with that person which didn't come easy."

During his year as president of ACM, Ian Macwhinnie will urge other principals to widen the scope of management training. The association will also try to analyse the problems facing staff as they adjust relationships and juggle their teaching and management workloads.

"Things will become clearer when people are appointed specifically to those roles," he says. "There are bound to be tensions during periods of transition and before their colleagues recognise them as managers."

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