Where the same can be different

19th August 2005 at 01:00
The focus of management structure should be classroom teachers, not subjects, says Roger Stewart. Elizabeth Buie speaks to a father of the faculty system.

Management structures in secondary schools should be designed to suit the children rather than the subject specialists or departments, says Roger Stewart, the head of education in Fife.

In his previous post as director of education in West Lothian (until November 2002), he was one of the first to introduce faculties.

Although these are often criticised for their make-up of disparate subjects, when teachers talked about a school where the rationale for one faculty was that all the subject departments were located on the same floor, they were referring to a school in West Lothian.

In his current post, Mr Stewart is equally committed to a vision of creating a middle-management structure that performs a different role from the one traditionally associated with principal teachers.

"There will be groupings where some subjects are simpatico," he says, but that need not be the rule of thumb. "Actually, middle management is more concerned about pedagogy, about learning and teaching, rather than specialisms.

"The basic building block which should be put at the centre of everything we do is the classroom teacher."

The post-McCrone agreement, he argues, allows schools to have an "enhanced professional" at the heart of everything that happens.

"The previous system delivered for some kids very well," he says, but it also made for "a dependency culture over the past 30 years", he believes.

Mr Stewart argues that the teachers' agreement has created the space to free up the system and make better use of resources, including support staff, particularly when it comes to addressing inclusion and discipline issues.

In average-sized secondary schools, subjects such as history will usually have three or four teachers. But one of the management design principles when looking at the span of control of a manager is to have one leader for every seven or eight staff. What teachers need is collegiate working rather than necessarily a specialist in their own subject leading the department, says Mr Stewart.

With the 35 hours annual requirement of continuing professional development and quality in-service training, teachers can become highly professionalised within three to four years of entering the profession.

Throw into that equation chartered teachers and, he says: "I can't for the life of me think that you need a principal teacher for that. What you need is collegiate working."

One of the most commonly cited criticisms of the faculty structure is that less experienced teachers miss out on the support of a department head specialised in their subject.

"I think that happened in the best of cases in the past, but it was not universal that the young person was necessarily supported by the PT," he says. "In the future, all teachers will have a collegiate responsibility to support each other."

Mr Stewart also believes that Professor Gavin McCrone was right when he said that chartered teacher status should be within the reach of the majority of teachers.

There is a "King Canute ability" among some in the sector to sit there and say, "Why change?", he says. But there are already drivers for change in the system, particularly curriculum flexibility.

Lindsay Roy, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, says: "Managing change effectively is a challenging process and the rationale for any change must be clear. In essence, any changes to management structures must have as their basis the improvement of the quality and standards that schools can provide. Management structures must therefore be fit for purpose.

"Feedback from our members indicates that there are wide variations across the country and concerns have been expressed about, for instance, a uniform allocation of depute headteachers, irrespective of whether the roll is 700 or 1,700. In other authorities concerns have been expressed about strong local authority pressure to reduce the number of senior managers."

Mr Stewart says that in a recent benchmarking exercise comparing a school with 70 per cent of teachers in promoted posts to one with 50 per cent, there was no correlation between the number of promoted posts and the outcomes of the pupils. It is the classroom teacher as an enhanced professional that makes the difference for children, he believes. Middle management needs to concentrate on managing the whole school and leadership, he argues.

His experience of working in five education authorities during his career has been that principal teachers moving to depute headteacher posts have often found themselves floundering because of lack of preparation. He, therefore, wants fewer promoted posts but for those teachers in senior and middle management roles to have more time to run the school.

Mr Stewart would question any school which has five depute headteachers, particularly if it also has a business manager.

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