Leadership - How to get your faculty on top form

Diverse departments can be tough to lead; follow our tips to fly high

Hayley Ryan

Working as a head of faculty in a further education college can be, to borrow from Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times. It is a dynamic role, full of challenge and creativity, and yet it can also be awkward and difficult. Faculties can be incredibly diverse and trying to get a handle on the different elements can be tough.

I am the head of a humanities and creative industries faculty in a medium-sized sixth-form college. My role includes leading and managing six curriculum teams: humanities, English and languages, teacher training, art and design, performing arts and media.

The role is demanding because I need to lead on the performance of so many different courses, despite not having first-hand experience of delivering them myself. I am out of my comfort zone at times and this can present an issue if teachers pick up on it. I cannot simply rely on curriculum leaders telling me that everything is running properly - I need to recognise what good practice actually looks like. So here is what I have learned about being the best possible head of faculty.

Be communicative and visible

Although it can feel delightfully productive to spend all day in the office responding to your never-ending stream of emails, it is much more important to get out and spend time with the teams that you lead. At least once a day I pop into the curriculum offices, informally checking that everyone is OK, dealing with emerging issues and communicating messages face-to-face. I aim to present myself as approachable and genuinely interested in the teachers working within my faculty.

Have a shared vision

The vision for our faculty is that we enable all our learners to "be someone". This permeates everything we do and gives us a shared base to work from. The BTEC performing arts team may feel that their subject is very different from A-level English literature, but they have a common drive because of that shared vision. This creates better working relationships in the faculty and gives us a clear, common identity within the college.

Do your research

Spend time learning about the variety of qualifications under your control so that you feel confident leading them to success. You need to know the right questions to ask of a subject teacher in order to assess the quality of provision and identify innovative ideas for improvement.

Be organised

I have many systems that help me remain in control of my ever-expanding to-do list. I keep a file on each teacher within the faculty and I make notes every time we meet. I also have calendars that prompt me to act on key quality reviews. For example, at the beginning of an academic year I will plan specific dates for each teacher's appraisal and six-month review, one-to-one meetings every other week with my curriculum leads and so on. This ensures that communication is maintained as a priority.

Respect the experts

To portray yourself as omniscient will only set you up to fail. Instead, respect the expertise of each of the teachers within your faculty and acknowledge that they know more about their course than you do. Working collaboratively with teachers creates positive relationships and empowers them to succeed. With the right person at the helm, if staff feel valued and empowered they can be steered towards success.

Make the tough decisions

As a head of faculty you often have to make difficult decisions and I cannot say that I have enjoyed taking teachers through capability processes, redundancies and disciplinary meetings. However, what always gets me through such difficult days is to remember that I have a moral imperative to ensure that all learners within my faculty receive the outstanding learning experience they deserve.

Hayley Ryan is head of faculty at Totton College, Hampshire

What else?

Read this master's thesis on what qualities make for a good department.

Check out the Twitter discussion from #UKEdChat on how to be a good senior leader.

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Hayley Ryan

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