December 2008 is the deadline for full implementation of the workforce reform agenda. Dorothy Lepkowska looks at how schools have used the opportunity to rethink staffing structures and the role of support staff at the most senior levels.
Workforce remodelling has introduced a wealth of new opportunities in schools. However the timescales and sheer enormity of the task have brought new pressures as well.
As senior leadership teams and teachers handed over many of their former roles and responsibilities to support staff, new structures had to be put in place to ensure schools continued to run smoothly.
Workforce reform came with a legal requirement for schools to make it viable. In other words, taking on hundreds of support staff would not necessarily be effective if the system was in disarray and no one knew what they were supposed to be doing.
Under the Education (Review of Staffing Structure) (England) Regulations 2005, schools are obliged to ensure that people are properly deployed, have specified duties and responsibilities and are adequately graded and remunerated for the job they do.
However, the process has not always been an easy one, according to Stephen Szemerenyi, ASCL's pay and conditions specialist.
"While, technically, schools are required to restructure their staffing, many have been focused on the transition from management allowances to teaching and learning responsibility payments (TLRs) and have paid much closer attention to the attention to the needs of teachers than support staff," he says.
"Many have simply reproduced structures that already existed without giving it much thought."
There is no right or wrong way to carry out restructuring. But at the broadest level, schools can opt for a staffing framework which separates teaching from non-teaching staff, or one which includes both. On balance, and for practical reasons, says Stephen, it is probably easiest to combine the two.
Typically, schools will divide staff into three or four groups, under such headings as business, school and personnel; or teaching and learning, student services and health and safety. Most staff will fit easily into a category, though others may require greater thought to put their roles to best effect.
"Schools that separate teaching from non-teaching staff in their structures will have to offer clarification of how the two fit together and run in parallel. So, for example, if you have a senior manager who is not a teacher, an explanation will be required about how they fit into the senior management team," he says.
George Stephenson High in Newcastle is one secondary where remodelling has been organised with two parallel structures - one for teaching and the other for support staff.
Head Anne Welsh says the model is transitional and was set up to assist the school through the process of remodelling as more and more support staff were employed.
"We needed to make the whole idea of line management clear as we create more new jobs but eventually I would agree that one structure would be preferable," she says.
"The whole process is about changing hearts and minds. What is happening is a huge cultural change and not just among the staff. We still see occasions where pupils don't display the same level of respect for support staff as they might for a teacher."
Potential career progression should have been taken into consideration in restructuring, as clear career paths will help with staff retention. Schools should offer opportunities for promotion where possible and appropriate so, for example, a deputy librarian or attendance officer may have the scope to rise through the ranks to become a school manager.
"Schools need to ensure that support staff are paid fairly, and many schools have unresolved issues about part-time and termly-paid workers," Stephen says.
"Equally, if they are taking on aspects of what has traditionally been a teacher's role, then opportunities for career progression must be opened to them.
"You cannot lock people into their posts," he said. "By definition, the more support posts there are in schools the more chances there must be for people to progress. We already see that in some schools all pastoral work has been handed over to the support staff. These roles carry certain responsibilities which should be recognised.
"Equally, a financial clerk who is good at their job might be sent for data processing training to give them greater confidence and responsibility, which might lead eventually to a senior post. "Schools should have the attitude that they are a learning community and when you join they will help you to grow in the way you want to grow."
Schools could hire support staff with relevant experience straight into management posts, or they could 'grow their own', Stephen says. "There is much to commend a school which acknowledges the contribution of its workers and allows them to flourish."
Schools might also want to consider multi-faceted posts for their support staff, especially for roles like cover supervisors where retention can be an issue. A cover supervisor for example, might not have anything to do on some days and their time might be better spent helping in other areas when they are not fulfilling their usual role.
"Giving people a multiplicity of roles helps to sustain interest and motivation, and will foster career progression," says Stephen. "So the cover supervisor might spend some time working as a teaching assistant rather than sticking rigidly to a discrete role."
Remodelling does, of course, suggest a huge cultural shift, not only in the role of individuals in schools but also in attitudes.
Support staff who increasingly take on the pastoral roles once carried out by teachers might find themselves becoming a teacher's line manager, when previously the head of year had that responsibility.
Conflict can also arise when a teacher who saw a certain role or responsibility as a stage in their own career progression suddenly sees it handed to a non-teacher.
The impact of these changes on schools has varied. The winds of change of the national agreement have so far had a greater and more positive impact on teachers than on support staff.
However, discussions are now taking place with regard to the pay and conditions of support staff. Ministers in principle have accepted that a new body should be responsible for the pay and conditions of the school workforce in England, while the National Joint Council (NJC) would continue to apply to support staff in local authorities. A final decision on these matters and on the implementation timescale has yet to be made.
The good thing is that it is raising aspirations, Stephen says. "We now have people who might have thought of little more than a career working in a supermarket being school managers because of the opportunities that have been opened up."
He predicts that in some schools support staff will in time out-number their teacher colleagues. Heads who have already developed sophisticated structures in their own schools tend to agree.
Chris Nicholls, head of Moulsham High School in Essex, has appointed two non-teachers to the senior roles of business and school managers. The move has freed up deputy heads from tasks such as data handling, time tabling and dealing with staff absence.
Chris foresees a time when there will be a blurring of roles between teachers and highly-qualified teaching support staff. He sees no reason why the workforce should not move horizontally as well as vertically through the school structure.
"My view is that you should be able to enter the school workforce at a range of points and be able in theory to end up as a leader of the institution," he says.
"Early on in our restructuring we appointed an assistant head who was not a teacher, believing initially it would not go down well with teaching staff. It took about two weeks for everyone to get used to the situation. Teachers found that if they had a problem, for example, with pupil behaviour, someone was always there to help them deal with it.
"I believe that teachers will work with anyone who can help them do a good job." Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education writer.
An assistant head from a non-teaching background argues why she is ready to take on a headship. See Widening the talent pool.
Case Study: Highfield Humanities College
Highfield Humanities College has an effective, parallel structure for teaching and associate staff, which is being threatened by the looming single status agreement.
Staff at Highfield Humanities College in Blackpool are organised into two distinct but parallel groups of teachers and support staff.
The structure of non-teaching staff was devised by Linda Appleby, the school's business manager. Linda has five people working to her, all of whom are line managers for further groups of employees.
The administration team leader is the head's personal assistant (PA). As well as running the head's diary, the PA manages the clerical side of the school, organises the school calendar and manages four other clerical staff, including the finance officer and receptionist.
The site team leader is essentially the caretaker. S/he has an assistant and manages three site supervisors and ten cleaning staff. The group is responsible for the maintenance of the school site and buildings.
Next is the technical team leader who probably has the most complicated role in the structure. S/he doubles up as the school's examinations officer but also has responsibility for managing the network manager as well as the IT, science lab and DT technicians.
Linda says: "Most of those people work on their own, dispersed around the building, and some of them work part-time or day-to-day under the direction of a teacher or head of department. There is little opportunity to bring them all together."
The learning support team leader also has an assistant and is responsible for five full-time learning mentors, five part-time cover assistants and two librarians, one full time and one part time.
"This team wouldn't work one-to-one in a classroom situation but may look at why children are having problems with learning and support them in the appropriate way," Linda says.
Finally, the school support assistant (SSA) team leader manages the 21 classroom assistants, some of whom are paid by the school and some by the local authority. They may be attached to one child or spread out among children who have statements or who require specific support.
Linda says: "We have the five team leaders so we can disseminate information effectively. It is a form of pastoral care for the staff to make sure that no one is left out of the loop."
Devising the structure was difficult, particularly for the technical and learning support teams as many of them work in isolation and did not see the need to be part of any team, she adds.
"For example, one of the SSAs is at level 3 and based in the English department reporting directly to a teacher. She barely ever has contact with any of the other SSAs and didn't see why she should be included in their group.
"But generally, I tried to mirror the teaching staff structure so that everyone received the information they needed to make the school run smoothly."
However, Linda believes the remodelling structure is being undermined by the single status pay review currently taking place in local authorities, which puts employees into homogenous groups rather than taking account of individual roles and responsibilities. Exams officers are particularly affected.
Linda says: "Initially, we were told to be creative and to push the boundaries, but now we are being pulled back into line by having our job descriptions measured against those in other schools and departments around the authority.
"The role of the examinations officer post looks like it is just a data entry job, but in reality it is a highly responsible job with accountability for huge chunk of the school's budget.
"I hope that devising this structure will not turn out to be a worthless be a worthless exercise."
Case Study: Hindley Community High School
Appointing a head of year who was not a teacher paved the way for the integration of teaching and support staff at Hindley Community High School.
Staff restructuring at Hindley Community High School in Wigan predates workforce remodelling. The school considered an increased reliance on support staff when a teaching head of year left several years ago.
"She was always pushed for time and juggling teaching duties with her pastoral care responsibilities, so I thought it was time to see what would happen if we had a non-teacher in the role," says headteacher Jane Lees.
"We consulted with the unions and staff and staff and some expressed reservations because they believed it was taking a teacher's job. But in reality, it turned out that appointing a non-teacher enhanced the jobs of teachers."
The school hired someone who had worked at a residential special school for children with behavioural problems and had the specific skills and training to deal with difficult behaviour.
"It seemed radical at the time but we later appointed a second head of year who was not a teacher, at the time when the whole workforce reform issue was coming in. It gave us a lever to look behind what we do," Jane says.
Today the school runs a structure where teachers and support staff are largely integrated. There are three 'deputies' at the school - one for student services, one for teaching and learning and the school business manager.
The deputy for student services has responsibility for special needs and the associated support staff, such as educational psychologists and teaching assistants. The post holder is also responsible for allocated curriculum areas (heads of department) and for inclusion, which involves staff responsible for counselling, work experience and child protection.
"The current deputy is a teacher but might not be in the future," Jane says. "If we gave this post to a non-teacher, however, we would have to consider the implications of that person managing teachers because of the curricular aspects of their job."
The deputy for teaching and learning also has responsibility for a mix of teaching and support staff, including technicians. The role is supported by an assistant head of curriculum who looks after advanced studies, alternative education options and the timetable.
The role of business manager, meanwhile, has evolved from the old post of the bursar and is the only category of the three overseeing exclusively support staff.
"After being appointed as bursar, we realised that she was taking on more and more responsibilities, so we sent her on the National College for School Leadership course. The business manager is now a strong member of the leadership team," Jane says.
The business manager has a clear role to make sure the school's finances are in order and that administration is carried out. She also manages the site staff, such as the caretaker, all the clerical staff, the examinations officer, cover supervisors and welfare assistants.
Jane says: "Devising this workforce structure was very challenging, but intellectually stimulating. It was a golden opportunity to define roles within the school and make sure the right people have the right skills for their roles."
It is unlikely that support staff would ever manage teaching staff directly because, even if they have the leadership skills, they lack subject knowledge, she adds.
"However, I can envisage a time when the support staff make up the majority of the workforce in the school."
© 2017 Association of School and College Leaders