Friday, 13 June 2008

Business Manager vs Educational Professional in the top slot?

The question – “Does the most senior post in a school have to be occupied by someone with teaching qualifications or can the responsibilities of that role be more effectively be delivered by someone with a ‘management’ background?”

I do not intend to dissect the role and offer pros/cons but to suggest analogues which indicate that the need for a qualified teacher at the top of a school may be unnecessary.

IMHO an exploration of this question needs to start with an examination of the role of the most senior person in the school (for the sake of this item I will deliberately not use the word ‘headteacher’). That role varies depending on the type and size of school. Can it be that the capabilities needed of the leader of a small primary are the same as those for a large secondary? I suspect not.

What is likely to be needed in a small primary is someone who can, inter alia, occasionally teach and regularly offer ‘technical’ support to other teachers to help them improve their performance as teachers. Contrast this with the head honcho in a large secondary, which may have well over a hundred staff and a budget in excess of £10m where if they ever need to teach then something has gone seriously wrong with staff scheduling – their role is much more leadership and management than direct involvement at the chalkfront.

Think about this in the context firstly of the management of your LEA – does the Chief Executive of the LEA have to be a teacher? If not, at what point up the hierarchy does the requirement to have been a teacher stop? Now shift the focus of the question to industry – maybe the head of 10 person IT company needs to be pretty familiar with computers but does the CEO of Shell have to have drilled for oil or driven a petrol tanker or filled vehicles on a forecourt?

An interesting, and no doubt controversial, analogy might also be leadership in the Arts or Hospitals. In both of these sectors there has been a recognition that the ‘arts/health professionals’ do not necessarily have the capabilities, or maybe even the desire, to be effective managers of the whole enterprise. A very clear lesson from both of these sectors is the need for very close collaboration and shared Values/Ethos between artists/doctors and managers. A manager driving commercial success through ‘bums on seats’ may not gel well with an artist driving a grant-funded leading edge repertoire; in the same way, medical consultants need to acknowledge that there is limited funding and consider value for money just as hospital administrators need to handle the fact that they are in the business of saving lives not making money.

Speaking personally, I started my career as a pretty good synthetic and analytical chemist whilst ended it, having climbed very high up the greasy pole, negotiating with government and regulators about environmental quality standards. I did not shake a test tube for the last 25 years of my career, yet an appreciation of the technical/chemistry issues associated with improvements in environmental quality gave me a sounder foundation than if my background had been in teaching. The CEO of Shell needs to appreciate some of the issues around filling vehicles on forecourts but does not need an NVQ Level 4 in the topic to be able to operate effectively at his level.

I see to many managers in industry who have been promoted apparently on the basis of their technical competence and who do not seem to understand that management is itself a discipline that needs to be learned and studied. Engineers (for example) are happy to undertake CPD, indeed it is a requirement of their continued registration with the Engineering Council, why then do they think that they do not need to go and study management? You would not put an MBA to design a bridge any more than you should put a C.Eng. in charge of 100 people without substantial management training.

So my basic proposition is that whilst all head honchos need at least a modicum of leadership/management competence, the amount and balance between that and teaching qualifications/ability depends on the size and nature of the school. The move to new Headteachers being required to have the NPQH is a move in the right direction. A further move to recognise that the biggest schools would benefit from professional managers doing the management and professional teachers doing the teaching would be a further positive move. I would be very happy to appoint a professional manager to head large secondary provided that they formed a sound working partnership with the senior teacher and each of them were able to operate understanding the needs/constraints of the other.

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