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Primary Education News
News Secret Teacher: it's only a matter of time before ninjas take over our schools
Why are school leaders so keen on ridiculous job titles and management structures, asks the Secret Teacher
Recently, a parent rang the school and asked to speak to a member of the management team. "What's it regarding?" asked our charming receptionist. "Different school leaders have different areas of responsibility." The parent laughed said that it was about a lost football sock. "Hold the line," our receptionist replied. "I'll check who deals with that." There was a brief pause. "Is it a left sock or a right sock?" asked the receptionist.
OK, I admit it, that's a lie, fabricated to illustrate a point: management teams in secondary schools often have ridiculously complicated roles and structures, which would be laughed at in business.
Let's look at our numbers and, for simplicity, we'll exclude non-teaching staff, supply teachers and trainees. The school has around 60 academic staff, full and part-time. This includes one head, two deputy heads, three assistant heads, 10 heads of department, five deputy heads of department (at least two HoDs are one-man bands) and seven heads of year, including three with deputies.
On top of that, there are three advanced skills teachers, four cross-curricular co-ordinators and a further three teachers with special responsibility for something or other. In crude terms, this means that a simple chalkface teacher faces a chief-to-Indian ratio of approximately 4:1 in the staffroom. Surely, that can't have any impact on a teacher's perception of their own worth?
Now, don't get me wrong. I know a lot of this is logical, and I know that the workload needs to be spread around. As organisations get bigger, they do become more complicated and more difficult to manage. This is a well-known dictum of management science, and it definitely applies to UK secondary schools.
Where schools differ from most businesses is that they seem to accept such nonsense. In business, there is a constant striving for flatter, leaner structures, a demand for shorter, clearer lines of management control and a focus on, well, efficiency. This just doesn't seem to happen in schools. This is partly due to the fact that schools in general do not employ dedicated HR professionals.
If an organisation has someone senior with a specific, expert authority in human resources, there is greater control. In business, the creation of a new role is a big deal: it requires a job specification, a role description, competency profiling, salary grading and so on. In some schools, on the other hand, anyone in a position of authority can magic up a new role, as long as it doesn't involve any more pay.
In addition to role proliferation, the situation is made worse by job inflation – this means that job titles become increasingly grand to differentiate more senior people. In schools, this is made worse because academic staff are not, in general, called "manager"; they jump straight from being a teacher to a "head" of something.
This is likely to impress your friends outside teaching (in business, a head is pretty important) but it doesn't leave you with many options for your next job title. If there is someone more senior than a head, the title of director is increasingly common in secondary schools. Its original business meaning, which implies membership of the managing board is forgotten, along with the legal duties and obligations that accompany the title.
This tendency of role inflation is likely to spread. For those bored with being an administrator or co-ordinator, there are much more glamorous alternatives: "champion" is particularly nice and in new-technology jobs, "guru" and "ninja" are appearing in job titles. It's only a matter of time …
In defence of our schools, I should point out that we didn't start the trend of title-creep; it has been evident in business for several years, and actively discouraged by sensible HR departments. We do, though, now seem to specialise in it. In many instances, impressive roles seem to have been used instead of a salary increase. In other words: we may not have a lot of money, but we can still hand out fancy job titles like sweets at Halloween.
This week's Secret Teacher works at secondary schools in the south of England. His job title is executive vice-president (no, not really).