Who wants to be piggy in the middle?

6th August 2004 at 01:00
Only a few brave souls with youth and ambition on their sides, says Matt Christie

Middle management has never been easy, and especially not in teaching.

Pretty soon it will be impossible. Pity the poor subject leader or head of faculty - but do it quickly, because before long there will be none left on whom to pour your sympathy.

Time was that middle managers were time-served; they'd proved themselves in the classroom and been given their chance to lead the team. Well, good for them. Many did their jobs brilliantly and intuitively, and education was the better for it. Some were not so naturally gifted and found the step up left them - and those on the rungs beneath - in a rather wobbly position.

Reasonably enough, there were concerns that good teachers were not necessarily good managers. Training was provided but it was patchy. Some learned new and effective management skills, others continued to muddle through. No one could claim the system was perfect.

But is the progress that is now being forced through going to prove long-term, effective and sustainable? I fear not. In the brave new world of Miliband's Millennium, being a manager is no longer enough; you have to be a leader as well. There is much more training on offer. The National College for School Leadership brings us "Leading from the Middle", the key stage 3 strategy brings us the subject leaders' development programme. It's all happening. And that's the problem. Too much is happening - too many courses, videos, folders, strategies, expectations, demands. A basic lesson in any management course is that when you add a responsibility you make time for it by removing a previous one. People must have the time to carry out the role effectively. How is this to happen?

Subject leaders now have to add to their list of responsibilities not only the requirement to be good teachers, they also have to oversee the writing and delivery of schemes of work; observe lessons regularly; contribute to performance management procedures; identify the continuing professional development needs of their team; build the team; monitor and evaluate teaching and learning; analyse data; set and review targets; carry out work sampling and oversee the budget... Oh, and where does the buck stop when it comes to faculty or department discipline issues or complaining parents? Guess.

If they are lucky enough to have attended a course on delegation they might just offload some of the more basic but time-consuming administration such as the class lists, the book orders, the resources audit, the timetable allocation, the stationery order, the letters home, the reward certificates, the report checking. This assumes, of course, that there are management points in the system to give in return.

Middle managers are leaving in their droves. Some are going to senior management jobs and consultancy posts. They're good then? Yes, brilliant, but exhausted and needing to step out of the arena before the lions maul them. They've gone from where we desperately need them: in the classroom fighting the good fight . Others have simply waved the white flag. Within a 10-mile radius of here, there are three schools where the head of English has asked to "downsize" and go back to the classroom. And are there hordes of well-qualified candidates lining up to replace them? A few brave souls with youth and ambition on their side are willing to step forward. A few years ago they would have had a slower rise to the top, learning along the way. Now they are catapulted into positions that require a degree of wisdom and experience which no amount of brilliance, energy or fast-tracking can instantly provide. How many will last the course?

Soon the consultants will have no one to consult with because middle management in schools is becoming, at worst, a no-man's land and, at best, a world inhabited by well meaning and ambitious youngsters who have too much expected of them too soon. If the profession is to continue to grow and develop, it must be encouraged to do so at a manageable pace and with adequate funding. A few years ago the headlines were all about recruitment problems. That issue has by no means been solved, but it is no longer at crisis level. The real issue in the years to come is the quality and quantity of capable middle managers. We need a realistic long-term plan which is adequately funded to give us well-trained, well- qualified heads of subjectfaculty with the time to do the job.

Matt Christie has been teaching in the west of England for 25 years. He writes under a pseudonym

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