Career Clinic

This week Professor John Howson answers questions about skipping a pay grade and non-traditional routes

Professor John Howson

Great leap forward?

I have taught in the same secondary school since qualifying five years ago. I was promoted two years ago to curriculum coordinator. I am now considering my next move. Is it worth my while applying for assistant headships, or should I go for a head of department role?

Unless you have undertaken significant professional development that would fit you for a senior leadership role, I would advise doing a head of department post for a few years to develop your experience of leadership and strategic planning.

The term "curriculum coordinator" can mean almost anything from a head of department to working within a departmental framework with responsibility for one aspect of the subject. You should never assume that other schools will understand the terminology used in your institution if it is in any way out of the ordinary, so you should clearly explain on any application form the extent of your responsibilities.

It may be worthwhile sending off for details of some of the kinds of jobs for which you may like to apply, and going through the job descriptions and person specifications to see the extent to which you currently fit them. You can then start to plan your professional development so that, when you do actually apply, you can be confident that you meet all a school's requirements.

I suspect that these will have a focus on leadership and an understanding of the nature of strategic planning - what a colleague of mine used to call the "helicopter vision" - that is certainly required of heads and should be part of the expertise of all staff with whole-school responsibilities. Just as departmental leadership often requires leading non-teaching staff for the first time, so the next step up requires a wider breadth of vision and the capacity to lead others outside the comfort zone of the subject you have so far worked within.

Alternative therapy

I have worked at a secondary school for more than five years. Initially, I worked in the inclusion department and delivered the alternative curriculum. I have progressed through roles as an extended schools coordinator and head of house. I am unsure what the next step would be for me in secondary education.

You do not make it clear whether you have qualified teacher status (QTS). Without this, your options could be limited in many schools. The next logical step would normally be to apply for a senior leadership team post, possibly as an assistant head. However, that may be difficult in many schools if you don't have QTS.

Since starting work in the secondary sector, you have worked either with a group of pupils receiving an alternative curriculum or as a head of house, presumably responsible for the teaching, learning and pastoral support of a group of pupils of different ages. Although I have no hard evidence either way, I have heard it said that people in middle management positions who are not responsible for academic departments have found progression to senior leadership roles more of a challenge recently, perhaps because of the focus on academic achievement in schools. Some politicians seem to forget that more than half the secondary school population do not go straight to university, and many need the skills necessary to succeed in the job market.

You should review your recent professional development portfolio and consider how it has prepared you for promotion. If you have undertaken no work in the leadership field, are lacking in strategic vision for a school and cannot easily undertake many of the roles required of entry-grade senior leadership team posts, you will need to rectify these deficiencies if you are to stand any chance of further advancement in mainstream schools.

Professor John Howson is our resident career expert, with 40 years in education, including spells as a teacher, academic, school recruitment researcher and government adviser.

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Professor John Howson

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