Where's the crossover?

13th December 1996 at 00:00
Local management of schools has completely changed the structure of local education authority administration. Many LEAs have rigorously restructured their professional staffing in the light of their changed functions and local political priorities. Management and administration have been streamlined, and there have been severe cuts in the recruitment of new staff.

Before local management it was possible to enter an authority with A-levels and progress up the career ladder gaining experience and qualifications over the years. Steve Leigh did just this. He left school with his A-levels, worked in administrative support for special education, and has since obtained two post-entry qualifications: an HNC in public administration and recently a BA in public services management. He now holds the post of assistant education officer for local management of schools and contracted services with Newcastle LEA.

His post was previously held by seconded headteachers on short- term contracts, whose expertise was used to set up the framework. Using seconded headteachers or consultants for particular projects is a pattern repeated in many local authorities. It allows flexibility within reduced budgets, without commitment to permanent and expensive contracts.

Another common route into administration used to be transfer from the classroom. It was relatively easy, if you had experience in school both as a teacher and as a middle manager, to move into education offices. You could then move up the promotional scale, perhaps even becoming a director of education.

John Harrold, now manager of operations in Cumbria, transferred into administration after eight years' teaching. But he says that it has become difficult to do the same since the advent of local management. In the time he has spent in educational administration, the number of officers with a teaching background has sharply diminished. In Cumbria the current total is only four, including the director of education.

Advertisements for positions in administration tell the same story. Although a few state that "qualified teacher status would be desirable", most ask for financial,

planning or project management skills.

The incentives to move to the administrative sector do not, at the moment,appear encouraging. First, and most obviously, the jobs are no longer there in shrinking local authorities.

Second, government policies have gradually reduced the role of local education authorities.

And third, the salary and promotion incentives to join the ranks of education officers have been seriously eroded. Secondary heads in larger comprehensive schools can now earn similar salaries to directors of education.

Nevertheless, the new unitary authorities that are now springing up may need to recruit. Indeed, Torbay Borough Council and Derby City Council, both due to become unitary authorities soon, were recently advertising for senior education officers and managers.

But, because of the greatly reduced role and size of local education authorities, John Harrold says that the market for jobs is less predictable and that it is now possible to "bounce boundaries". A headteacher, an accountant, or even the managing director of British Gas plc can apply to become a director of education.

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