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Issue 4 - April 1972
Top Of The Form
It is an obvious fact that many parts of the educational system are in need of reform. However in the talk of change, one aspect which is often ignored is the system of appointing teachers to positions of responsibility, particularly Head Teachers.

Since everyone has been through the school system it is pointless to go into much detail about how great the powers and responsibilities of Head Teachers are. It is enough to say that they control the activities of the children in their school for 7 hours a day and that they have control over how large sums of money are spent, on books, equipment etc. It therefore follows that the system of choosing these people should be as democratic, and contain as few loopholes as possible.

This however is not the case. There is no national system for this procedure and so the methods used in any one area are left up to the Local Education Authority. This leads to considerable discrepancies, i.e. in some LEA's one must be a deputy head before one applies for Headships, in others this is not the case. In Durham county, Head Teachers of Primary Schools are chosen by a committee of 24 comprised of 12 County Councillors, 6 School Managers and 6 from the Divisional Education Executive. The system varies slightly for senior schools where there is a Board of Governors rather than School Managers. Deputy Heads, Heads of Departments etc are chosen by the Divisional Executive.

The composition of the committee is an important element. As things stand it usually consists of people interested and active in local politics. The County Councillors are overtly political. The School Managers and the Divisional Executives often contain a large number of local councillors. That these people, many of whom are genuinely interested in education are represented is not necessarily a bad thing. However, the system of choosing the committee could be improved. The obvious gap is the lack of representatives of the teaching profession, a fact their unions have pointed out. Teachers, being employed by the County are excluded from the County Council. Teachers on the Divisional Executive or School Management are mainly there as individual citizens and not as representatives of the teaching profession. A set number of teachers, perhaps only two or three, on the committee, would be an important step towards a more democratic basis since, after all, teachers are more likely to know the problems involved.

Similarly, there is no definite provision made for parents of children in the school. The way things stand they must act in their roles as individuals but this would mean involving themselves in the whole circus of local politics. Only the most determined do so. And yet there must be several parents interested in education but not wanting to be involved in other aspects of local politics. Surely it would do no harm to provide places on the School Managers Committee for interested parents.

A third point connected with the composition of the committee is that although many are genuinely interested and make an effort to find out about it, they do not necessarily have to know anything about education or the school involved. It would surely be possible for the committee to have a short discussion beforehand with educationalists and the retiring Head Teacher in order to be better equipped to assess the qualifications, which can be misleading on paper, of the candidates and the qualities needed for the position in question.

Having suggested ways of reforming the committee, two points should be made about the present situation. Firstly, because the committee consists in the main of people who have committed themselves publicly to a political party it is unlikely that they can rid their minds of political bias, no matter how subconscious this is. The job of Head Teacher is apolitical - the committee is not.

Secondly, the bulk of the County Councillors and some of the Divisional Executive are not from the area where the job is. They are therefore often less interested than for example parents and teachers would be, and thus it is more likely that their votes could be 'led' by e.g. a persuasive local man.

With the reforms suggested above making the committee less political and more involved, through teachers and parents, the chances of this being able to happen would be lessened.

The bulk of the selection procedure lies with the committee but of course the teaching profession is involved. At the moment the applicants must have a set number of years teaching experience but not necessarily in the type of school involved. A senior school teacher can be appointed head of a primary school, never having taught in a primary school. Teachers are arguing that candidates should have, as well as a set number of years overall teaching experience, a set number of years, possibly five, in the type of school involved.

Similarly, in Durham County there is no stipulation about the type of experience whether as a class teacher or a Deputy Head etc. Regulating this factor could lead to a very rigid system, but if applicants had to show some proof of responsibility held, it would prevent the present system, where someone with no experience of school administration could become Head of a fairly large school.

A final point is that it is rare for posts to be readvertised when no suitable candidate has come forward. The tendency is to appoint. This is particularly relevant to very small schools, Deputy Headships and Head of Departments. To leave the post open while it is readvertised would surely not cause too many problems and allow for a better appointment.

The system as it is now puts pressures on everyone involved. The members of the committees are making important decisions, often without all the information and advice that would be desirable. Teachers know that to be promoted they will have to go through the system and so are less likely to experiment with their own ideas and express their own opinions forcibly when they may gain the antagonism of people later to have influence over their career.

The reforms suggested in this article would help to minimise these pressures. In fairness to the County changes have been made in recent years. The most important of these have been to abolish the system of canvassing, by which applicants went round to visit the committee before the appointment was made. The other was to insist that appointments of Deputy Heads, Heads of Department etc took place at the level of the Divisional Executive and not as often happened in practice by the School Managers. Both of these moves were obviously for the better, but it is arguable that they did not go far enough and other changes should be made.