Daniel I. Scully

physics text books

The Teaching Ladder

Early this year the Department for Education put out a poster which attempted to encourage people into teaching physics with the promise that they could become managers sooner than in other walks of life. Understandably this received a negative reaction from the physics community (and has since vanished!). After all, wanting to become a manager is not the right motivation or mindset you need to teach and inspire students about physics. But although I agree with that criticism, it did remind me of another concern I have over how we run our schools.

It’s absolutely correct to say that people who go into teaching should do so because they want to be teachers. Teaching requires you to engage, inspire and develop children’s interest in your subject, something which can’t be done without being completely engaged yourself. It’s a job in which you have a tremendous impact on others and so requires absolute dedication to that task. So you shouldn’t go into teaching in search of becoming a manager (not that there is a concern that people do, the teachers I’ve come across are there for the right reasons).

physics teacher recruitment poster

At the same time however, who do we task with running and managing our schools? Usually it’s teachers.┬áTeachers who didn’t go into their profession because of their training, interest or skills in management.

I do think that a school’s management team should be knowledgeable about education. I do think they should know and understand what goes on in a classroom. But I also think they need to understand how to manage and lead people (very different to managing and leading students). They need to understand how to communicate and work with multiple stakeholders, not just those sat in front of them. They need all the knowledge and skills required to run a medium sized organisation.

Somewhere between entering the classroom and being promoted out of it we expect teachers to acquire this. To become a teacher we give  them a dedicated and vetted education, trial placements and mentoring. To become a manager they will be lucky if they receive a few after-school lectures.

While I’m sure it would be wrong to hire in a manager with no experience of teaching straight into a school, it seems equally wrong to hire in a teacher with no experience of managing and leading. If we are to continue to drive our schools forward, perhaps we should give greater thought to how we prepare our school’s leaders to do so.

(I could not find any remaining copies of the original poster. The photograph above was taken by @jonbutterworth.)