Pushing career boundaries to aid school improvement

Richard Harrison, director of community engagement, Regent High School, discusses how you can evolve your role further

School business and professional services roles in schools are evolving. The rigid demarcations between teaching and support staff SLT roles are blurring. Schools are increasingly recognising the value senior support staff can bring to the organisation. Leading schools recognise that their business and professional services colleagues are integral to their staffing structure, strategy and operations.

This provides fertile ground for individual and team development. School business and professional services staff are often the embodiment of flexibility in their schools, an attitude that suits itself to both work tasks and career development. Schools strive to make continual improvement, and at the centre of this improvement work is recruitment, retention and deployment of excellent staff.

If schools are able to review what being a ‘support staff’ member means, drawing on the knowledge, skills and expertise of their staff, they are more likely to at first recruit and then retain the best people for these roles, who in turn feel engaged, fulfilled and challenged in their roles.

A conceptual shift that might be helpful is to that of ‘professional services’ staff from ‘non-teaching’ or ‘support’. This is a shift that has happened in universities, and which recognises the specialist experiences and knowledges that people who are in associate roles bring to their organisations. As the complexity of the professional services arena in schools increases, it is incumbent upon us to attract the staff most suitable to these diverse roles so that they are able to make a full contribution to their school’s improvement work.

Employing senior professional services staff in a range of roles – operations, finance, community engagement, for instance – also provides valuable career development opportunities for less senior staff.  This can be motivational for staff, while meaning that schools retain institutional knowledge and role-specific expertise when internal opportunities arise.

Naturally, it follows that to enable professional services staff to perform at their best, there must be equal opportunity for such staff to undertake rich, rewarding CPD. This is often in-house, often alongside teaching colleagues, but can and should be external. Everyone deserves to be inspired and invigorated, and to apply learning in their roles and beyond. Where professional services staff are also able to develop and lead meaningful CPD, their expertise is then spread across a wider body of colleagues inside and outside of their own schools.

This re-framing of the role of professional services staff is dependent on the culture of the school overall, but when done in a considered and effective way can have significant benefits for both the school and individuals. Such a shift needs to be measured and context specific – what works in one school will not necessarily work in another – but when done carefully and creatively can lead to individual fulfilment and institutional improvement.

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