Planning, planning, planning; ensuring you get that work-life balance when setting up a new department

Laura Stewart
8th September 2015 at 17:09


Subject Genius, Laura Stewart, Politics classroom

Last year, I spent the majority of my time running around at break-neck speed, trying to keep my head above water: I had a wedding to plan, a flat to re-decorate and not to mention a department to start up from scratch!

If, like me, you have been given the wonderful opportunity to rise to the helm of a new subject area, you’ll probably feel a similar pull into that oh so burdensome ocean: an abundance of schemes to plan, trips to organise, trial elections to run…it's no wonder it took me so long to get round to sorting out the table arrangements.

But despite the loads that go hand in hand with such a responsibility, the gratification is endless. When I decided to head up a Government & Politics department, I was set on helping ignite my student’s interest in a subject that I have always been incredibly passionate about.

Politics is so relevant to the lives of our students. It has been fascinating to watch the students ponder and inquire into the UK’s government: its history, structure and conventions. Many of them enjoy the subject so much, it’s no wonder lots of them chose to study it at university. 

As the new Head of a new department, I had to implement tactics to differentiate from the outset. I decided that holding fortnightly essays, peer assessments as well as a vocabulary list and images which directly relate to key terms would help overcome some students’ difficulties whilst games such as ‘just a minute’ would help challenge the more able of the group.

Weekly debates were held in the classroom and this really brought the subject to life. I modelled it as if we were in “Prime Ministers Question Time” (PMQT), and allocated roles to different pupils, of all abilities. I was lucky enough to have the lesson on a Wednesday at 12 noon, which meant I would sometimes show live coverage of PMQT – it's no surprise that the students unanimously voted this their favourite lesson each week!! 

For students to be a part of the General Election we held a ‘mock election’ where 3 party leaders from the course ran a campaign to entice over 1500 pupils to vote for them. Staff helped promote the election, which was a huge success and was supported by the local media as well as local MPs.

As a teacher of politics, I would highly recommended a visit to the House of Commons and House of Lords (our local MP held a Q&A session after our tour, where students had the opportunity to challenge him).  

I went into teaching four years ago because I wanted to help 21st century learners understand the world they inhabit and support them as they face the many challenges along the way. Teaching Government and Politics has been a great vehicle in which to approach the above and as I begin my second year heading up this new department, I’m ready to dive into the ocean head first.

Laura Stewart is Head of Government & Politics at Southgate School, Enfield.