How to become a head of year

Does the thought of being the pastoral lead for a year group appeal? Our guide has everything you need to start the journey

Grainne Hallahan

Head Of Year Interview

After form tutor, the role of a head of year is the first position of responsibility in the pastoral chain of command. You are a key point of contact for parents and a linchpin for the school when it comes to behaviour.  


What does ‘head of year’ mean?

Due to the nature of secondary schools, the role of a secondary head of year will vary due to the way schools can vary in size. We know an average school has 910 students, according to Department for Education research in 2017, so from this we know an average school would have around 180 students in a cohort under the care of the head of year. 

However, different school structures mean that the responsibilities of the head of year can vary. In some schools, there will be a head of year plus an assistant or an administrator. In other schools, the head of year has sole responsibility for their year group. 

In larger primary schools with multiple classes per year group, there might be a head of year or lead teacher for each year group. However, this does not always come with a paid TLR, or could form part of a larger role with other responsibilities.

What responsibilities might they have?

A head of year is responsible for the pastoral care of the students in the year group. This means that behaviour, safeguarding and attendance issues all come under their remit. Therefore, a head of year has much more contact with parents than, say, a head of department would.

The form tutors of the students in the year group will be under the direction of the head of year. The head of year will make decisions regarding the content of the tutor time, the delivery of PSHE and the running of assemblies. However, these decisions will be made in conjunction with the key stage lead (if the school has one) and the assistant head in charge of pastoral and behaviour.

Decisions regarding sanctions, such as internal exclusions, may be made by the head of year but, for more serious sanctions, the decision will be taken in consultation with more senior members of staff.

As a head of year, it is likely that your timetable will be made up largely of teaching, with only a few periods set aside to dedicate to your year group. Much of what you do will be expected to be completed outside of school hours. In order to allow you to attend meetings with outside agencies, you will sometimes have to arrange to have your lessons covered.

Some schools advertise the role as a non-teaching one, and will be looking to appoint someone who is in a non-teaching role already, such as a teaching assistant.

What is a head of year’s salary?

A head of year will receive a teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) payment that is added on to their normal salary. The amount you are paid for the TLR will vary from school to school. TLR 2 payments range from £2,667-£6,515, and TLR1 payments range from £7,699-£13,027.

How do I become a head of year?

A head of year is often the first post of responsibility a classroom teacher holds. If a school uses assistant heads of year, it would be sensible to suggest holding this post first. However, any experienced form tutor could feel confident that they were qualified for the position.

When is the right time to become a head of year?

There is no official requirement for heads of year to have a set number of years’ experience before taking on the role. However, it is wise to give yourself time to understand how a school works and how the different chains of command function before taking on a management role yourself.

Amy Forrester, head of year at Cockermouth school in Cumbria, advises teachers to be cautious about applying for a head of year role before becoming established as a classroom teacher. 

“As a head of year, it is vital that you find your expertise in the classroom first. It is a highly demanding job and you need to be an efficient and effective classroom teacher first and foremost,” she says.

I’m hoping to apply for head of year posts next year, what should I do now?

Some schools provide “step up” opportunities for staff to job shadow or try out senior positions on a temporary basis. This can be an invaluable experience and will give a genuine insight into the expectations of the role.

It might also be an option to complete a CPD course in what makes an effective head of year. Some schools offer this as part of their in-house CPD. If this isn’t an option for you, you can try making an appointment for a meeting with a head of year that you respect and asking them about their experience in the role.

As a head of year, you will be expected to take the lead during whole-year assemblies. Offering to lead an assembly can be a good experience and something to include on your application form.  

Another good way to prepare is to so some further reading on the pastoral side of teaching. In our Pedagogy Focus series, we look at Philosphy for Children, Jean Piaget, and Maslow's hierachy of needs. All of these would be a good starting point for someone with an interest in pastoral leadership.

Where could the role lead to?

If you wanted to progress your career focusing on the pastoral side of teaching, a natural trajectory might be head of year, to key stage lead, then to assistant head of pastoral. Beyond this, deputy head and headship would be the final stages of your teaching career. 

Although head of year is very much a pastoral role, the skills and experience you acquire doing the job do not mean you cannot apply for future promotions on the academic side of the school. Many heads of year go on to then be heads of department or heads of faculty.

Alternatively, you may enjoy head of year so much that you wish to remain in that position. In some schools, the head of year moves up the school with the year group, allowing you to change your role on a yearly basis.

In other schools, the heads of year become experts in their year groups, and therefore the transitions of Year 7 and Year 11 can be good places to develop as a pastoral lead.

When I’m searching, what kinds of things should I look out for?

If you are hoping to stay in your current school, it would be good to make your interest in the role known to the person who line manages the heads of year. Internal heads of year posts are more common than external.

“If a post comes up internally for head of year, my advice would always be to apply, even if you feel you haven’t got the experience. Expressing your interest can really help in securing this kind of post in the future,” advises Forrester.

If you are looking to move schools, setting up a Tes job alert is recommended, owing to the infrequency of the posts being advertised.

Be sure to click through and read all of the attachments on the advert. This will give you a better idea about the way the head of year and the management structure is organised at that school, because you cannot assume it will be the same as at your current one.

Because head of year jobs are typically advertised without specifying subjects, when searching you will find more results if you leave your subject blank. If the job advertisement specifies a subject but it is in all other ways your dream job, there is no harm in contacting the school and expressing an interest anyway.

Find more guidance on how to apply and interview for a new role on our Careers Advice pages.