Reflections on Middle Leadership – Structures & Reporting

In all of the schools I have worked, the arrangement for line management and accountability has been the same – each HoD works with a line manager from SLT, and has regular meetings through the academic year. At this time of year, there’s a produced exam analysis and report, which feeds in to a meeting and review process.

Prompted by a discussion in messages, I wondered how common this was across other people.

75% of respondents had the same arrangement as I was used to: a non-specialist SLT managing them. 19% of people had Faculty line managers, while 3% were managed by a specialist member of SLT. All of this was fairly straightforward; there are a range of different management structures based on the size of your SLT and school.

I was shocked to see that 3% had no line management – I wonder if this is just exceptionally small schools, or how this is accounted for!

With a much smaller sample size, the overwhelming majority of people have some kind of meeting to discuss their results as a regular process – either with the Head, or their SLT line manager. Again, surprising that 9% only produce a written report – with no opportunity to chat – and 14% have no reporting at all.

What do we learn? Well, I guess that there is a convergence of management and accountability in most schools, and they do it in similar ways. However, what are the implications for i) professional development, and ii) styles of leadership?

  • Being line managed by a non-specialist member of SLT often takes care of the ‘chain of command’ confusion – if you are the HoD, but you have SLT in your Department, who makes the decisions? Far easier to take the line management out of this mix up – thereby creating a ‘non-specialist’ SLT management structure. In some cases, it’s inevitable – if your Head is a specialist in your subject, for example – but it works for most people.
  • Can you realistically have a mentoring relationship with a non-specialist? Some of your subject specific issues (for example, managing portfolios in Art, or DT; managing field trips and controlled assessment for Geography; managing labs and practicals in Science) are really specific skill sets. Does having a non-specialist mean that your line management is different? More difficult? Can they ever give you practical mentoring and advice, or will you only ever have a coaching relationship?
  • Is academic management the same as pastoral management? There are plenty of people who have gone up the ‘pastoral ladder’ – Head of Year, Head of Key Stage, Assistant Head/Deputy Head (Pastoral) – and never line managed a Department. Does this matter? I think many of us would flinch a little at the idea of Heads of Year reporting to someone who’d never been a pastoral leader, as an example, but I have experienced line management by a non-HoD route leader who was outstanding. Again, there’s a conversation about mentoring versus coaching – can you offer advice on something you’ve never had to deal with?
  • One of the cognitive blind spots we generally have is that other people’s successful pathways should be like our own. We are, for instance, a graduate profession. We tend to advocate university education – it’s worked for us. Does this play a role in the management and leadership in schools: what practical route ways can we offer, if we haven’t experienced them? Many options – e.g. subject associations, writing for journals, examining – are things that you know if you’ve grown up in that subject & discipline, but wouldn’t have the same access to from outside.
  • These structures can work well with established and professional relationships – existing HoD and existing SLT. However, the development of that relationship  – and the priority given to it – is critical. New HoDs and new SLT are a significant challenge; worse still when both parties in the line management are new! How can this be sustainable? Should line managers rotate? Stay the same? Pair according to what?

It’s clear that there is a convergence in structures – but to me, they appear to be designed for accountability first and foremost. It is about line management – what have you done, where are you, show me the evidence.

What would these relationships look like if we designed schools for leadership? Or for professional development? How would they change? What would you do if you had a blank slate to start with?

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