Development changes in your workforce which make flexible use of vital support staff teams will do much to encourage school improvement in general, believes Brian Rossiter, headteacher of Valley School in Worksop

In 2005 the Education (Review of Staffing Structure) Regulations 2005 placed a duty on school governing bodies to review the school’s staffing structure, consult and prepare, by 31 December that year, a plan for the full implementation of any changes arising from the review by 31 December 2008 (1). Valley School began their initiative – Valley TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More – to address issues using their own staff.

We took the opportunity at the time to have a detailed examination of the involvement of the whole-school workforce in the raising standards agenda. Essentially, we looked at a staffing structure that encompassed both the teaching team and the support staff team. Emphasis was placed on allowing teachers to teach and support staff to do just that; support delivery in the classroom by removing burdensome activities from teachers.

This covered more than the infamous, and now discredited, 25 tasks list. Our approach was to use the opportunity to take forward the earlier expansion of our support team. Central to this work was defining the role of the bursar in the school.

Over recent years I have promoted the view and vision of the DCSF (Department for Children, Schools and Families) and ASCL (Association of School and College Leaders) which sees the role of the most senior support individual at the school (school business manager/bursar/support services leader (SSL)) as being a full member of our core leadership team (CLT). They consider the role as one of supporting the head and the school in meeting its educational aims. This has happened at Valley.

Support services leader
I have never been happy with the title ‘bursar’ as the descriptive noun for my colleague Adele, who is a highly effective leader of the full support team at Valley. As support services leader, she leads on what are referred to as the seven ‘key areas of bursarship’ (2) as she carries out her duties across the school:  

  • financial resource management
  • management of information systems and ICT
  • administration management
  • planning and managing change
  • human resource management
  • health and safety management
  • facility and property management.

These key areas of bursarship form part of the National Bursars’ Association (NBA) nation-wide standards for the role and go much further than the traditional narrow view of a bursar as a financial manager in school.

Major workforce shift
As we have moved forward as a school, we have seen a major shift in the workforce. This reflects a change in staffing levels as a result of our efforts to take on the challenge of workforce reform and the subsequent shift in non-teaching admin duties and responsibilities being transferred to support staff in school.

The scale of the change in numbers of support staff is great. We are a large, mixed-sex urban comprehensive school with approximately 1,580 students on roll. In 1999, we employed 42 support staff and 94 teachers. In September 2007, we employed 111 support staff (including contracted services employees, and session/casual employees) and 97 teachers. Our SSL leads this massive group with a team of middle leaders managing smaller teams. Her role encompasses activities ranging from strategic advice on budget to human resources and the professional development review programme for all support staff. Her job profile reflects the previously mentioned seven key areas of bursarship.
In addition, our school has experienced operational changes connected to a transfer to PFI arrangements, and this now requires a partnership between the school and the provider with a strong lead. Much of the connected high-level PFI liaison work is now being borne by the SSL and me as the head of the school.

We will continue to see changes over the coming years in the flexible use of support staff as it enables us to continue to improve what we do as a school. The group will continue to increase in size (if affordable!), and this requires clear leadership for the support team. This confirms my original view of the importance of the SSL being part of our leadership team.

Part of my responsibility as a headteacher, when reviewing my leadership team’s roles, was to ensure that there was parity between colleagues in relation to salary levels within the team. This was to reflect the strategic level of responsibility attached to individual roles. Alongside the governors, I considered altering the salary range for the role of SSL, which gives recognition for the responsibilities attached to the role and follows the national recommendations of the DCSF and ASCL. I formally revised the salary range for the SSL post and allocated a salary on the APT&C scale equivalent to the leadership spine which gives parity with other members of the leadership team.

Continuing professional development
It is important to stress the need for professional development opportunities for SSLs/bursars and support staff in general. At Valley the current post holder, Adele, is driven to self-improvement and we have supported her as she has gained various associated qualifications over the past few years; mostly in her own time. She studied with the Institute of Administrative Management (IAM – National College for School Leadership partner for the more recent developments, ie CSBM/DSBM), in the late 1990s.

Recognising the correlation between the key areas of study and the work she was carrying out within the school, Adele gained the Advanced Diploma in Administrative Management. She continued with a Level 7 Master’s level qualification as a licentiate (LNBA) to the professional association (National Bursars’ Association). This level of qualification was announced at the 2006 NBA conference as a trigger for DCSF advanced school business manager qualification. More recently, she completed a degree in Strategic Management with the IAM. All this goes to show that colleagues in such a role have continuing professional development opportunities available to them should they wish to follow them up. And when they do, there is a significant bonus for the school supporting them. I have referenced some of these opportunities at the end of this article.

Adele also leads a very active Nottinghamshire bursars’ association, which in my view provides an important opportunity to network with colleagues in a similar position and for being briefed on recent local and national developments. I would urge colleagues to support any request from bursars or support colleagues to attend such informative networks.

A ‘hot’ development in continuing professional development for support staff has been the professional certificate in support staff middle leadership (PCSSML). The first cohort of 27 students for this stand-alone qualification start in September 2008, following 18 months of planning and design in partnership with Nottinghamshire local authority (LA), Valley and Portland schools and Nottingham Trent University. This is a Level 3 qualification which has been designed to meet the growing demand for training for staff employed within support roles in education settings. These staff may be currently employed as middle leaders or aspiring to this level of responsibility, and they include the full cross section of roles within the school.

This new leadership course is focused on the specific context of education settings and the unique roles these generate for their support staff as they seek a career route parallel to that of teachers (3). The 60 credits awarded on successful course completion may be used towards a BA (education).

Our new workforce model created smaller sub-teams of support staff with clearly defined areas of expertise and specific job profiles (we don’t use generic LA devised job descriptions). We have a student service team (personal student data/attendance/student reception), a finance team (contributing from day-to day activity to medium term funding projections supporting my role as head), a data team (exam officer/invigilation/assessment data/timetabling) and a cover team (cover manager/cover supervisors). Teachers have not covered lessons or invigilated exams for several years at Valley – a much appreciated benefit of reform that allows colleagues to plan their non-contact time without fear of it being taken away from them.

We also have other traditional teams such as network services (IT support/VLE and web design, hardware installation and maintenance), learning centre team, other technicians and assistants supporting other relevant curriculum areas.

Approach on inclusion
I was anxious to do two things in the area of inclusion – special needs and the unification of certain posts. Firstly, when looking at the role of special education needs coordinator (Senco) as practised (rather than theorised) in school, I examined all the activity that required the skills and attributes of a teacher. Controversially I was – and still am – of the view that this role can be delivered by a suitably trained and experienced non-teacher practitioner.

There was strong opposition to this view from the existing teacher Sencos, colleagues in the local authority (LA) and the teacher associations. I was aware that the SEN code of practice document (written well before Workforce Reform was even thought of) had some text that implied that the Senco should be a teacher. I contacted the then DFES who looked into the issue.

Unhelpfully, Lord Adonis made a statement in Westminster at that time on the same issue, saying that the named Senco must be a teacher and it was expected that this person would be on the school’s leadership team. In my opinion, this ran counter to the whole concept of whole-school workforce reform and may have reflected a lack of communication between different sections of the department. Our response has been to have my deputy head (student development) as the named Senco, with a non-teacher brilliantly fulfilling the day to day activity of that role. As learning support manager (LSM), this member of the support team now leads a team of 21 teaching assistants and liaises with outside agencies as we support our students.

The other change I was keen to achieve was the pulling together of the three key posts of student inclusion manager, student development leader and LSM. This article is too short to detail all their individual activities, but all of them support some of the most vulnerable and challenging students in our school. This unification was made possible and practical when we moved into our newly rebuilt PFI school, where we included in our original vision statement and design an ‘inclusion corner’. All colleagues and external agencies (school health, educational psychologist, youth offending team, etc.) working with vulnerable students were co-located here, allowing us to offer a more joined-up delivery of support.

Rethinking ‘heads of year’
The examination of all areas of the workforce, alongside research across the country, led me to propose a series of changes associated with leading year cohorts of students. Valley is a challenging school. Like many schools, we had what were generally termed ‘heads of year’. These teachers had some extra non-contact time with their year groups to both monitor the academic achievements and deal with social issues as they arose.

Like many heads, I found this to be an almost impossible job – especially as the accountability regime for schools was becoming harsher and these colleagues formed an essential part of the process. I examined the concept of mini-schools within the school, vertical tutoring, having two or three heads of year per year, and re-examined the status quo. We restructured in this area. Each year cohort now have a team (of equals) comprising one progress leader (PL) and one pastoral support manager (PSM). The teacher progress leader still has extra non-contact time on their timetable, but their role is primarily to monitor and be responsible for the achievements of students either individually or in groups (including the whole year cohort). The non-teacher PSM works full time on the social issues within the year cohort. This includes not only disputes, behaviour management, home and school contacts, bullying and attendance, but also opportunities for rewards, praise and wider extra-curricular activities.

The use of non-teachers advising and supporting teachers with issues such as behaviour management was initially greeted with some scepticism by some traditionalist teaching colleagues. Time has shown that this refocusing of support has been highly successful, with positive feedback coming from staff and parent bodies alike.

Progress leaders have their own line manager who leads on transition between key stages, monitoring achievement and initiating whole school activities related to achievement. This shift of emphasis has not been easy for former heads of year. This is especially clear to see as they develop skills in new areas. For example, a key part of their new role is the much closer communication required with faculty coordinators as both seek to improve standards in areas of underperformance identified through a tight target setting and monitoring regime.

I believe the success of this redefinition of roles lies in the excellent work of Carole, the progress leader’s line manager, who has a clear understanding of both her own role and that expected of the progress leaders. Carole works efficiently and well with her team and has developed with them calendars of core activity that they follow during the year. The PSMs are line-managed by the deputy head (student development) and form a key element in our wider school inclusion team agenda. Much more is to be done in this area but current progress bodes well for the future.

An ongoing process
It is a fallacy to describe workforce reform as a three-year cycle. It is an ongoing process with changes and reviews taking place to access changing circumstances. The teams of teachers and support staff form the Valley team. Teachers are given space to focus on teaching and learning and the raising of standards. The support team offer a significantly higher level of service in expanded areas of influence. There is little distinction between the two, with respect being shown for colleagues whatever their role in school. I cite two key reasons for this change in ethos and practice in the school: the opportunities arising from the workforce reform agenda, and the dynamic leadership offered by a knowledgeable and dedicated support services leader.

I believe that the workforce reform we have been engaged in has had a positive effect on the school. We have a line management model across the whole school, and most importantly, we have a strong team ethos across our school. We work hard and play hard together. Decisions have to be made, and are made, and this is respected by people working across the institution. At the same time, we are a learning organisation with continuing professional development available for all. I take advice and act on it from all sections of the school. Our support staff know that their voice is heard as much as that of the teaching staff. We form the Valley TEAM believing that Together Everyone Achieves More.