Malcolm Payton, Naace board member: Outstanding administration

Malcolm Payton, Naace board member: Outstanding administration

Malcolm Payton, Naace board member, outlines the importance of admin and why processes and procedures require respect

It’s only admin

Really? Is administration the least of priorities, the lowest of skills, the bit that is trivial once the difficult, strategic stuff is done? That seems to be the way it’s treated in many organisations with staff even being proud of their lack of admin skills, especially when it comes to technology. How often have you overheard comments along the lines of, ‘I’m so bad at filing – I can never find the latest version of the document I wrote’ or ‘I hate working with technology – it always seems to go wrong’.

Not only is good admin a high-order skill but poor admin is the single most common cause of organisational failure

The strange thing is that this lack of expertise is somehow interpreted not as an inability to learn or manage, or as evidence that admin tasks are actually quite difficult but as compelling evidence that the person concerned has his/her mind on higher things. This is a ridiculous argument; if the effective use of technology is a low-level skill it should be easy to master, not some sort of insurmountable challenge. Admitting it is difficult conclusively confirms it as a high order-skill. Indeed, I would go further and argue that not only is good admin a high-order skill but poor admin is the single most common cause of organisational failure.

Are strategy and management unimportant then? Not at all. Strategy and management are the things that cause schools to excel but, in the vast majority of cases, it’s neglect of administrative detail that causes them to fail. Like golf, it’s not your best shot that counts, it’s your worst shot that counts.

A savvy solution

So, what do we do? Is there some magic way to ensure that all our systems are reliable and efficient and that everyone follows procedure? Perhaps not, but there are some very simple steps that can be taken.

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First and foremost, make sure that administration is treated with respect; do not allow people to suggest that it’s unimportant. Outstanding academic achievement and outstanding administration are both needed to create and maintain a school that performs well. Firmly establishing this truth changes the debate from one centred on whether we need to comply with procedures to more productive discussions about when and how things can be done.

The aim should be to develop a level of administrative proficiency that looks easy on the surface but

This does not mean that all admin processes should automatically command respect, however – respect for processes and procedures still has to be earned by ensuring they’re simple and consistent, especially in a world where the responsibility for administration may be delegated to anyone who can switch on a computer!

Simple steps can make a huge difference. For example, I have seen a school where the governance was transformed by simply insisting that all agenda items specified whether they were for information, discussion or decision and another where policy management went from chaotic to exemplary simply by agreeing that the school business manager had to approve any changes – not because the SBM had authority over the policy, but because they had authority over the storage and dissemination of the policy.

So, do not dismiss admin as the lowest of priorities. Remember that an expert makes things look easy. The aim should be to develop a level of administrative proficiency that looks easy on the surface but that everyone knows only appears easy because there has been investment in one of the school’s key priorities – an effective system of administration.