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How do I become a head of department?

Ever thought about one day running your own department? Our guide has everything you need to start the journey

How to become head of department

Running your own department has all kinds of benefits: you get to make decisions about the way your subject is taught and you have a voice in the school with regards to how the curriculum is shaped. You are also accountable for the results of your department and will be line managing the members of your team. ​

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What does a head of department do?

A head of department leads the team of teachers who deliver the lessons for their particular area. Maths, English and science are departments and faculties, but other subjects are parts of faculties. These subjects will have heads of department, who then report to a head of faculty.

Although the role of head of department is considered to be a curriculum one, the head of department will naturally be expected to work with the pastoral leaders as well as the data, teaching and learning, and curriculum leads. Decisions about exam boards, texts and topics, and course organisation will fall to the head of department, as will set organisation and teacher allocation.

In addition to this, the head of department is in charge of managing their team and ensuring that their department is running smoothly. Putting the timetable together, organising a cover system, stocking the stationery cupboard: all of these things fall to the head of department. 

Life as a head of department will rarely be quiet. Matthew Kingscote became head of the English department in his school in September last year, and he sums up the role as a “continuous quest for improvement”. 

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What is a head of department’s salary?

There is no separate pay scale for heads of department. Instead, a head of department is paid as a classroom teacher and also gets a teaching and learning responsibility payment for running the department. TLR payments can vary from TLR 2 £2,721-£6,646, to TLR 1 £7,853-£13,288. The payment will vary according to the size of department and school.

How do I become a head of department?

If you are currently a classroom teacher, then asking for opportunities, such as responsibility for writing a scheme of work or offering to lead training on an area of your expertise, are good ways to test the head of department waters. Taking on small responsibilities will help you to see if you like leading a team and are suited to the head of department role. 

Keep an eye out for internal advertisements for smaller posts of responsibility. The experience of holding a smaller TLR is a useful way to gain experience before applying to be a head of department. It will also mean you will probably be working with heads of department more closely, and will gain an insight into how to run a department effectively.

You could also look to do a National Professional Qualification for Middle Leadership (NPQML) which is aimed at those who are, or are aspiring to be, a middle leader. This will help you develop your knowledge, skills, and confidence in leading teams.

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

A strong understanding of the exams sat in your subject, and how the curriculum key stages link together, is desirable. Therefore, taking on exam marking or undertaking research of examinations you haven’t taught yet would be a good idea.

Adam Boxer, a science teacher with responsibility for key stage 3, believes experience of liaising with other teachers is a good preparation for the role.

“Before I was appointed in this role, I had some non-teaching leadership roles that involved dealing with people outside my faculty and running meetings” he says. “This definitely helped prepare me for the day-to-day challenges of managing a team.”

If your school offers A levels and you haven’t had an opportunity to deliver a course yet, then it would be a good idea to ask if you can have it on your timetable for the following year. Also, if your school offers “step up” opportunities, where you can job shadow or act up for a short period, it is worth asking if you can do this to gain the extra experience.

Where could it lead to?

Although many people enjoy the role of head of department so much that they stay put in that post, it is also a gateway to leadership positions. You may wish to continue on the curriculum side, and apply for assistant headships with responsibilities for teaching and learning, data or curriculum. However, you may now move into the pastoral side and progress to special educational needs and disability coordinator or a key stage leader.

A head of department of geography at a new school in West London considers the role as essential for anyone considering leadership positions but also warns of the drawbacks of moving up. “It’s great training for senior leadership, although it would be very hard to let go of the detailed curriculum work I love so much.”

There is always the option of remaining as head of department but moving between different schools, and varying your experience that way. As every school is different, you will have the challenge of developing different staff in varying contexts, but without increasing the level of responsibility you will be expected to take on.

When I’m searching for a job, what should I look out for?

If you are using Tes to search for jobs, make use of the filters to find the right roles for you. Also, look out for schools using different terms, such as “director” or “subject lead’’, and check the pay to see which TLR is attached to the post. 

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

Head of department jobs naturally come up less frequently than other posts, so do set up job alerts to save you constantly searching.

What kind of interview can I expect for a head of department role?

A head of department interview will usually last one day, and will include an observed lesson and a data activity. Your interview will normally involve questions pertaining to the details you included in your application, safeguarding questions and reflections on your lesson. Sometimes you will be asked to observe another teacher’s lesson and be observed giving them feedback.

Head of department interview questions

  • What is your vision for the faculty?
  • We have seen several changes in the curriculum over the past few years. How have these impacted on the reality of teaching for teachers of your subject?
  • What extracurricular activities will your faculty offer?

Browse the latest head of department jobs.

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