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Management has always seemed like another country to me – an exotic one with extremely changeable weather. It has its own language and customs that I’ve never been able to properly translate (no matter how hard I stare at the guidebook or gesticulate wildly.) This may very well be why I’ve never held a management position. It’s that or the ‘lack of anything vaguely resembling ambition, drive, or a shirt that is free from coffee spillage’ according to my last appraisal.  

Either way, career progression in schools is a strange beast. A vast majority of the time if you want to go up that ladder, you have to leave teaching behind to some extent. It’s a trade-off that has ultimately always left me cold. For all it’s faults (30-odd uniform-wearing ones usually HAHA! I’m joking obviously, ((it’s usually around ten)) the classroom is where I feel most comfortable when I’m teaching and leaving it for more admin and meetings would make me miserable as sin.  But then again, comfort isn’t everything. For although I wield absolute power within my kingdom like some insanely petty tinpot dictator, the kingdom I rule is very, very, small.

Yes you can shape, mold, knead and wedgie the lives of the group of young people in front of you and it’s a noble endeavour by anyone’s standards, but there is the wider world out there, and beyond the borders of the classroom chalkface voices are often lost. Schools are very much hierarchical institutions where position within that structure often trumps the value of an idea. Unless you work in one where steps are taken to make sure that all members off staff have an opportunity for input that will be considered and actioned if it’s of benefit (and if you do, hold onto that place tight with both hands as they are rarer than a clean mug come break time) then any bright scheme you might have for making things better has a chance of abject failure. To achieve maximum effect, you have to try to attain a higher level within the structure, thereby leaving behind the things that may be what makes the job special to you.

It’s a tough, extremely daft choice.

A system set-up in such a way that to do the most good in teaching you have to teach less? Slow hand-clap on that one.Yep, very special that is. Couple that with a lack of alternative progression options that allow you to stay in the classroom, and what you’ve got is a straightjacket of career advancement. But something I’ve come to realise is that if you want to affect change that reaches further, best get measured up for something slinky in really long sleeves and brass buckles.

It’s not ideal. In many ways it’s a path of constriction that relies on an outmoded structure. I’d prefer valid, valued alternative routes that imbue a teacher with equivalent status to management (the money would be good too). I’d prefer it that those who decide to stay in the classroom weren’t seen as being lacking in something. However, I suspect that that would take a culture-shift of fairly gigantic proportions and I don’t think we’re going to see something like that any time soon.

Although I’ve always been hesitant to the prospect of moving out of the classroom perhaps I was wrong. I don’t want to leave the kids behind to enter a strange world of action plans, minutes and walking purposefully down corridors but then again if I don’t I might not be able to do anything about the wider problems I see in front of me. Is that the way it should be? No, I don’t think it is. But that’s the reality.

Perhaps I can study the guidebook a little more closely – try to figure out what the natives are doing with those spreadsheets on their ipads. And I could really do with getting a new shirt.

Thanks for reading.



  1. Jill Berry

    “Schools are very much hierarchical institutions where position within that structure often trumps the value of an idea.” Oh, Tom – I really hope not!

    I recognise the ‘tongue in cheek’ nature of much of this, but I’m someone who really does believe that in a leadership role you extend your sphere of influence beyond the pupils you’re timetabled to teach, and you reach (and have the capacity to affect positively) the school experience (within and beyond the classroom) and the lives of more children, by working with and through other staff. You can make more of a difference (to the lives of staff, too), while still being committed to your own teaching – and I taught throughout all my leadership roles, including as a head.

    Absolutely agree that schools should be places where “steps are taken to make sure that all members off staff have an opportunity for input that will be considered and actioned if it’s of benefit”. A head I knew and respected said once, “A sign of a really good school is where the least experienced member of staff can feel confident about voicing an idea because they know it will be taken seriously”. I always remembered that, and thought of it often when I was a senior leader and then a head.

    Would love to have a conversation with you sometime about all of this!

    Hope all is well with you and the family.

    • tstarkey1212

      Hi Jill, sorry it’s taken so long to get back – thank you for the comment. Regarding the ‘hierarchical’ comment I think that it’s all very much institution dependent but yes, in my own (admittedly limited) experience it’s the way that it works. It’s wonderful to hear how you’ve gone out of your way to stay connected and through that connection had a positive influence – but I still see full-time teaching and management as very different roles and wish there were specific career paths for both. Absolutely love the quote and think that it should be stamped on offices up and down the land and would love to blather on with you at some point. Always appreciate you taking the time to comment J – thank you!

      • jillberry102

        Yes please! Here’s to a good blather at some stage in the not-too-distant future! Will you be at Northern Rocks?

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