The successful management and leadership of a guidance team in a secondary school requires a particular combination of talents, abilities and competences.
It calls for a good sense of organisation and administration, decision-making, planning and formulating policy and it requires interpersonal communication skills to motivate poeple and build relationships and teamwork. The art is to weave together the two domains of the job, but the bottom line is people before paper.
The demise of assistant headteacher posts from August 2003 and the reorganisation of the senior school management team's duties will require guidance to be reconfigured within the duties carried out by individuals in the team. In the absence of a national framework for guidance, there are no blueprints as to how to organise it at school level.
Guidance has been described as the cement that holds a school together; the fulcrum around which it moves; the oil that facilitates effective communication. The majority of headteachers accept it has a significant role. Some find it almost impossible to envisage a school where there is not an effective guidance and pupil support system that is managed effectively by a member of the senior management team.
In the context of the current debate about management and leadership it is important to remember that guidance is the responsibility of the whole school and every teacher. It is concerned with the interrelationship between pupils, teachers, parents and external agencies. It is concerned with pupil behaviour, attainment and achievement.
Guidance is usually undertaken by a group of promoted staff who typically also carry other duties, and is often the repository for miscellaneous and additional tasks and initiatives. Juggling the workload effectively is crucial if tasks are to be achieved, colleagues supported and early burnout avoided. This requires personal organisation, involving time management,and an ability to prioritise and say no to those people and tasks that inappropriately demand attention.
Having appropriate administrative back-up - and the ability to use it - is essential. This nicely illustrates the distinction between management and leadership. Having the back-up in place and allocating duties and tasks is one part of the story. The other concerns a level of interpersonal awareness and competence to work effectively and respectfully with staff so that they feel motivated and involved.
Procedures and routines will be followed and seen as supportive if those whom they affect have been involved in their formulation. A task will be completed with less resistance if it can be seen as contributing to the overall purpose of the team and individual.
Having a shared vision and achievable objectives provides the foundation of an effective team. Since guidance represents a sub-system within a school, its vision and objectives must be shared with and derived from those on the senior management team and the rest of the school. Without this, the system can pull in different directions with consequent tension.
The task of management is to accept the different contributions made by individuals while instilling a common vision and ethos. This requires self-motivation and an ability to motivate others.
All these characteristics lead in the direction of emotional intelligence. Whoever manages and leads the guidance team must possess the emotional intelligence competencies identified by Daniel Goleman in Working with Emotional Intelligence (1999), such as empathy, handling conflict creatively and communicating effectively.
To underline the importance of "people skills", it is worth quoting one assistant headteacher who, while acknowledging the managerial components of guidance, said: "It helps if you like young people and it helps if you have and can maintain a sense of humour."
Management and Leadership in Guidance, a video illustrating the issues raised in the article (pound;25), and an education management planner (pound;12.50) are available from Mike Hough, Faculty of Education, University of Strathclyde, 76 Southbrae Drive, Glasgow G13 1PP