Being a Head of Department

I saw a blog earlier today by a Head of Department offering advice to her younger self on how to be a good HoD. It’s generally full of good advice and important points. For me, however, the value of those good points was slightly undercut by the fact that it appeared written very much from the “leadership” perspective of being a HoD. I felt that, if I squinted a bit in places, I’d be able to see lessons on “leadership” from courses like “Leading from the Middle”, and the woeful National Professional Qualification for Middle/Senior/Junior/Bottom/Top Leaders as inflicted on so many blameless teachers. I’ve since had a PM chat with the author, and she’s a wonderful person. We do, however, disagree a bit on where the focus of the HoD role might be, and the extent to which “leadership” as it is currently perceived in the education system, is important.

Then I thought, “Hang on, I’m leaving my own HoD role after 10 years. I should offer my own collected wisdom to my successor, and to any other poor saps who think the TLR justifies all the extra contact with SLT they’ll need to have.” Not a blog on general “leadership”, because I’ve done that already, and a lovely catharsis it was too. But a blog on being a Head of Department, for those who might be taking on that role for the first time in September. Then I realised that this will be an even easier blog than normal, because I’ve already done it !

Two years ago, the wonderful Jill Berry wrote a piece on the Guardian website about what it means to be a good HoD. I didn’t know Jill then (I’d never been on Twitter at the time), and my response was somewhat sceptical of Jill’s perspective. I thought that she was describing what a headteacher thought made a good HoD, rather than what a teacher or HoD might think was a good HoD. And I launched what, on reflection, might well have been my first mini-blog.

You can find the Guardian article here. For ease of reference, I’m repeating my BTL comment here. I’ve read it again, and I still subscribe to every word I said back then! Sorry, Jill!

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Are you a Progressive or a Neo-Trad? Take the quiz and join your groupthink bubble!


Over recent weeks I have read more and more blogs and tweets on the issue of the alleged progressive-traditionalist (or neo-trad) divide in education. Some people have lined up to blame “progressives” for every ill in the world, while others have pointed fingers at neo-trads for providing cover for the wholesale Govian replacement of modern schools with 19th Century workhouses. In an interesting side-argument, I’ve seen plenty of ordinary teachers saying that they don’t identify with either progressive or traditional camps, and prefer to use mixed methods, only to be met by a blast of “You’re either with us or against us – there is no middle ground”. Which will be news to Switzerland.

So, how is a bog-standard teacher to navigate their way through this terminological minefield? How do they know who to follow on Twitter? Folks, as always, I’m here to help. All you need to do is take the following easy 20 question quiz, and you’ll soon have a clear identity. Then you can throw yourself enthusiastically into the fray without finding that you’ve embarrassingly raced to the wrong barricade.

Honest answers only, now.

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Arguments for Schools Privatisation: Is This Really The Best You Can Do?

The outraged reaction to the Government’s plans to privatise all our state schools by forcing them to become franchises of private companies called “Multi-Academy Trusts” continues apace. Tory councillors, the Financial Times and even the Economist have now criticised the plans. The response to the White Paper has been one of genuine shock that a government department could produce such an odious document of propaganda, fantasy and downright lies. Morgan was openly laughed at as she went to the NASUWT conference to explain to teachers that the recruitment and retention crisis has nothing to do with her own Government’s policies, but was because the unions were “too negative”. Oh dear. Meanwhile, however, the true believers, the hardcore of Govian Faithful (and more than a few people already benefitting personally from the largesse of MATs), are desperately thrashing around for arguments to justify or disguise the true motives : moving the education budget into private hands. I’ve collected their various attempts at arguments here, largely because, like Morgan at the NASUWT, I like to laugh at their vacuous stupidity. I’ve even marked them for you, using my own special scale. Feel free to disagree with the scores. Continue reading

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Schools. Or “Of Course It’s Bloody Privatisation”

This week, Nicky “I’m not Michael Gove, Honest” Morgan and her chum George “I’m not Satan, Honest” Osborne, announced that every school in England would be forced to become an academy by 2022. This has proved, to put it mildly, a little controversial. Opponents of academization, both forced and unforced, have generated a petition of more than 100,000 signatures already, while unions, teachers, politicians and Mumsnet(!) have united in fairly vitriolic opposition. Even Tristram Hunt and David Blunkett came out against this, which tells a remarkable story in itself. However, the “Glob“, as Francis Gilbert termed the very vocal and influential minority who actively support Gove’s privatisation agenda, has been predictably active too. More chaff has been thrown out by supporters of this policy in the last week than the RAF chucked out of its bombers over Germany in 1944, and all with the same intent: to obscure the real target. I’m here to clear the chaff away, hopefully. Continue reading

The Importance of Teachers : Great Irony by Policy Exchange

This morning, I found the Policy Exchange’s latest offering, a report entitled “The Importance of Teachers“. This was a mistake. Finding it, that is, not the offering itself. Hold on, actually, that was also a mistake. But more on that later. The real mistake was that I read it. This was largely on the recommendation of a tweet by Laura McInerney, a journalist I respect, who said “it’s really good”.  So I read it. It’s really not good. It’s terrible. Woeful. Awful. It is a desert of tangential irrelevance with the occasional oasis of good sense. I’m actually fairly appalled that our education “debate” is now so one-sided that this collection of ideological nonsense, peripheral inconsequentiality, meaningless platitudes, “leaderspeak” and head-in-sand vacuousness is what passes for a “good” contribution. In fact, it made me feel so frustrated that my poor Year 12s in Period One found themselves on the end of one of the more aggressively impassioned tirades they’ll ever receive about the failures of management in British industry during the Wilson-Callaghan government. I’m calmer now. So, dear reader, let me summarise those 98 pages for you. Continue reading

Putting a Contract out on Teachers

This is going to be about workload, and in particular, Russell Hobby’s piece about whether teacher contracts and fewer holidays might solve the workload problem. I thought this was an appropriate issue on which to return to the keyboard, not least because the reason I haven’t blogged for a while is largely due to the fact that, this year, I broke myself on the workload wheel. Continue reading