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Follow your leader

Performance management will change the role of department heads, with personal, rather than subject skills coming to the fore. Susan Tranter reports

Secondary teachers were once recruited and selected as heads of department because of their subject knowledge. But the introduction of performance management means that team leaders today face a very different job.

Heads of department will now be expected to negotiate and set objectives, hold regular meetings with individuals, assess progress and comment to their line managers on the work each teacher is doing. For a department to be successful, teachers will need to share the same objectives and sense of purpose. Their team leader needs to know what he or she is trying to achieve.

Current heads of department have been found wanting - subject expertise does not equate with management and leadership. As the demand for better results has grown, so has the demand for team leaders who can manage a group of teachers and take responsibility for the results.

Teachers will have to interact with one another. As we become better informed about teaching, as our ability to evaluate our teaching in terms of learning outcomes is enhanced, there will be a greater need for teachers to work together. One of the most important tasks for any team leader is to ensure that this happens.

This is where leadership skills come to the fore. The head of department's job was once characterised by mainly administrative tasks: ordering textbooks, setting exams and drawing up schemes of work. These days, effective team leadership requires more developed skills; subject planning around key themes is a creative process that demands a different model of leadership and management than the one that has pervaded many secondary school departments.

To move the department forward, to achieve the team goals, the classroom teacher's autonomy may need to be challenged. This may mean the head of department has to monitor the work of the individual teacher more closely and comment critically.

The focus will be on working with people and callenging their ways of working. But to do this the head of department has to create a forum where views and opinions can be explored openly and honestly.

Performance management provides an opportunity for change in the job description. The National Standards for Subject Leaders (published in 1998) is an attempt to model the job: to say what has to be done, what must be achieved and to define the core purpose of subject leadership. However, in seeking to define the job, we must not lose sight of the person and what they have to do and the effect that it will have on them.

Performance management - and setting targets for each teacher - means heads of department will have to shift from being a colleague - and perhaps being best mathematician, most accomplished linguist - to someone who makes judgments about other people's teaching. These judgments are not confined to procedural matters - they involve telling people what they must do to improve the quality of their work. For many, this is a considerable shift.

School managers must ensure that they recruit with these characteristics in mind. A rigorous induction is needed to make the transition from teacher to team leader - and only an honest appraisal of the team leader's development needs can ensure that he or she is able to evaluate the quality of teaching.

For team leaders, this means being prepared to have those difficult conversations; to develop the skills needed to create and maintain a team. And teachers have to know that being part of a team means accepting the function of the leader as the one who makes it happen.

All of us have to acknowledge that we make an individual contribution to the work of the team, whether as part of a small subject team, a large curriculum group or a group of pastoral tutors; that each person's work is identifiable and subject to evaluation is the way forward. It brings greater rewards for each team member.

Susan Tranter is deputy headteacher at the Matthew Arnold school, Oxford, and is the author of From Teacher to Middle Manager (Pearson Education)

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