Tags: Headteacher | School Leadership & Management | Staffing Structures

Kim Sparling, headteacher at Oldfield School, Bath, analyses the implications of the staffing structure review and argues that allowing greater flexibility into the process is vital.

As a headteacher of a secondary school, and also as an external adviser to other governing bodies, I know that the one task which has been occupying us all over the past few months has been the statutory review of the staffing structure. Having been involved in workforce reform for the past couple of years, few of us could have been totally surprised by the DfES initiative to force schools to take a tough look at the staffing structure to ensure that teachers focus on teaching and learning and support staff take on administrative duties.

Most headteachers can understand, and many actively support, the philosophy behind the reform. We are able, as practised interpreters of government legislation, to follow the rules and regulations. However, I question whether the reality of the new dawn in January 2009 will be what the DfES had actually intended.

Most senior staff in secondary schools remember the days, earlier in our careers, when schools consisted largely of teachers. The concept of a support staff team didn’t exist, there were a handful of secretarial staff who ran the school office and if you taught in a practical subject, such as technology, you might have been lucky enough to have a technician. But most teachers received little assistance in terms of modern technology or administrative help.

If you created a new teaching resource you literally made it yourself. If you organised a school trip, you wrote the letter, collected and counted the money and made the arrangements to buy tickets, organise the coach etc. As a form tutor you dreaded reports at the end of year – what social life was possible if your lounge floor was the collation point for your tutor group’s reports?

Back to teaching
Bit by bit schools have tried to ensure that teachers have received support staff to relieve them of so many of these administrative duties – the so-called ‘24 tasks’. In most instances teachers have been delighted to focus on the core purpose of teaching – few of us went into the profession to count money or endure the monotony of invigilating exams.

A few teachers, at the start of workforce reform, tried to insist that what was really needed was more teachers. However, this was never going to be a cost-effective solution. It seems that most teachers, and the teaching unions, did not envisage the final outcome of these workforce reforms – that ‘management allowances’, for doing more than the ordinary classroom teacher, would disappear. It is hard for anyone to argue that it must be correct for highly trained and skilled professionals to focus on raising standards in the classroom, whilst other ‘support’ staff undertake the very valuable administrative tasks which take place in schools.

So, the philosophy is undoubtedly correct, but why can’t it be put into practice so easily?

The exercise required by the staffing structure review has been to evaluate the whole of the staff, not just the teachers holding management allowances, but also the support staff and the senior staff. We must ensure that all posts held by teachers in the leadership team must require the expertise of a teacher – those that do not must be reassigned to a member of support staff.

Probably, like many other schools, we highlighted tasks done by members of the leadership team which could, in theory, be done by a non-teacher. As we also know that the DfES expect this structure to be less expensive than the existing structure, this could not mean a lightening of existing leadership team workload, but it could possibly mean the reduction of the leadership team by one and the downgrading of one deputy head post to that of assistant headteacher in my school.

Although the DfES guidance has quite rightly not provided models for schools to follow, there are certain criteria such as leading, managing and developing a subject area and leading, developing and enhancing the teaching practice of other staff which must be used to determine whether a new TLR should be awarded to a particular post. This means that if you have a single teacher subject, eg business studies, where the teacher’s work includes developing schemes of work etc but does not include leading the work of other teachers, or affecting the progress of students in other classes, a TLR cannot be paid.

Defining the rationale
Schools have been told to define a fair and transparent rationale for awarding different levels of TLRs, most commonly involving the numbers of periods taught, the number of staff in the team, the number of students taught, the number of exam subjects etc. We have also needed to be creative about what new support staff posts are needed, what pay is appropriate and who is likely to come forward to fill these vacancies. All of this must be discussed and consulted on prior to the governing body approving the final structure by the end of December 2005. The rules on safeguarding mean that most of those teachers whose existing posts do not appear in the new structure will be protected for three years.

However, the thinking behind this reform is that schools have a fairly rapid turnover of staff, so that in three years the new structures will all be neatly in place. Whilst I accept that in London, and other large cities, this may be true, in many schools there is a low turnover of staff, particularly at middle management level.
As a headteacher of a school which Ofsted called ‘a very effective school’ in 2003, we have little staff movement. It is precisely because we are a very good school that staff, at all levels, once they come to us, wish to remain. I know, and have no qualms about telling parents, that we are a very successful school because we have experienced and well qualified teachers.

Deflating morale Under the new Ofsted criteria, internal monitoring tells me that 90% of lessons are ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’. This is a tremendous asset for any school. So, although I may support the general philosophy behind the reform, I cannot agree with an initiative which, in effect, throws some very valued colleagues on to the scrapheap. The number of teachers whose current posts do not qualify for a TLR may be small, perhaps eight out of 30 teachers, but these teachers are real people, not just statistics. As middle managers they are influential people in a school. The morale of the staff could be deflated if it seems as if some staff will lose their allowances.

I cannot agree that setting a three-year deadline is appropriate – it would seem much fairer to move over to the new structure through promotion/natural wastage etc. In the meantime, those teachers are still paid for a post that involved work that needs to be done, and their loyalty to the school, and personal motivation remains intact.

Some governors have suggested that three years is fair because it gives those affected teachers plenty of time to find new jobs. However, there are flaws in this argument.

Firstly, do we as a school want to lose such outstanding classroom teachers? Secondly, are these teachers, realistically, going to find alternative TLR posts in other schools? With all schools undertaking the same exercise it is clear that the number of support staff posts are expanding but the number of TLR posts, in comparison to the old ‘management allowance’ posts, will decrease. It would be a great shame if some teachers, especially those moving into the last 10 or so years of their careers, should spend their time on a lower salary (also affecting their pension prospects), and with schools not utilising their wealth of expertise.

Pension loss
A major issue is the potential pension loss which will be suffered by teachers who do not gain a TLR of a similar value to their current management allowance. This is a concern for teachers in their fifties. It is likely that those teachers who have reached 55 by the end of 2008 will choose to take early retirement rather than miss out on pension benefits. Has the DfES calculated the loss to the system caused by this mass exodus of experienced teachers at that time? Is there any way in which the DfES can reconsider the pension issue for these vulnerable teachers?

Another real problem is that during the three-year implementation period, as the old structure fades and the new one comes into operation, the ‘in-between’ structure will be more expensive than the old or new structures. I have calculated that my new structure for the pastoral system, largely staffed by support staff, will cost £11,000 less than my current structure.

However, I cannot afford to employ support staff to take over the new roles during the safeguarded period. Even if an existing pastoral teacher leaves for promotion to another school it is still more costly to replace with a member of support staff unless all of the teaching pastoral posts have gone. It would be possible if schools had an additional budget for this transitional period – but of course this doesn’t exist. It is a frustration which I’m sure is shared by schools all over the country.

The reality will be that many schools will ‘fudge’ the real issues. In order that their hardworking and valued staff are retained, job descriptions will be amended and job titles changed so that TLRs can be awarded. So the ‘blue sky thinking’ vanishes. Hardline DfES officials insist that this is not what is intended. We, as headteachers, also know that this was not what was intended, we do know that it was not supposed to be an assimilation exercise.

However, few of us start with the opportunity offered by a brand new school, we know that we have to work skilfully with the staff we have, utilising their talents and expertise. This means in many cases compromising over what, on paper, may look like the best educational solution, in order that our staff do not feel demotivated or threatened. It is not healthy for a school to remain totally in its comfort zone, but neither do you achieve good results by putting everyone into the challenge zone.

My hope is that someone at the DfES will ask us, as headteachers, what we think of the process and perhaps relent a little over the three-year time deadline. With a little more flexibility we could actually bring about this reform as it is intended. Without that flexibility it may force many schools to do little more than an assimilation exercise. That would certainly be an opportunity lost.

Contact: headteacher@oldfield.bathness.sch.uk

This article first appeared in Secondary Headship – Dec 2005

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