Recent pay and career development initiatives have neglected the role of head of department. It is a tough job - managing the budget, motivating staff and improving pupil performance, as well as demonstrating classroom expertise - with little training.
Help is now at hand, however, from the HoDs Homepage, a website dedicated to heads of department in secondary schools. Funded by a research grant from the Teacher Training Agency, it has been set up by Paul Hammond, a deputy head at Tring School in Hertfordshire.
Mr Hammond, who led a science department for five years, likens the role to soccer's player-managers - "promotion after a distinguished career on the pitch".
He set up the website to share his MA research on good departmental practice. The advantage of communicating by the Internet is that HoDs can learn from each other. "They often have more in common with heads of their subjects in other schools, than with the heads of other subjects in their own," he says.
"This method of sharing ideas is especially important in grant-maintained schools where schools are not part of a local authority grouping."
The site is designed to be easy to use. "Heads of departments want immediate solutions to their problems or to be pointed towards the solution," he says. For instance, there are workshops to help you conquer tasks such as budget management (how to manage capitation with a PC home finance package); target setting; or staff management.
There are exemplar sheets - pro formas and policies that you can print off and adapt to your own needs - a news and feature service ( this month's is "What does the Green Paper mean for you?"); a problem page (advice on coping with an IT-phobic colleague), latest research, a bibliography and links to government and subject-association websites.
Paul Hammond's MA research into effective school departments also revealed that separate workrooms are one of the most important tools for heads of department who want to be effective leaders, managers and motivators.
Conventional wisdom often regards such rooms as threats to unity. Because there is no teaching going on, they are also considered by some to be a waste of space. But Mr Hammond disagrees.
"It is here that the HoD has the opportunity to be good for morale and influence the attitudes of teachers to students," he says.
He decided to investigate how effective heads of department influence classroom practice.He studied four science departments in different schools. "I looked at good practice, in what I knew to be good departments, by good teachers and good HoDs."
Mr Hammond identified skills and strategies common to all. Effective leaders have a clear view of their department's direction. They know its capacity for change and adopt an appropriate and flexible management style - tight when change is introduced, more relaxed when things are in place. They overcome the challenge of finding time to plan their own teaching by establishing maintenance systems, such as regular departmental bulletins. They deal with the threat of so-called urgent tasks overwhelming planning by ensuring that meetings do not become clogged with admin.
Developing these and the other skills of a good departmental boss - such as the ability to motivate and monitor colleagues and to identify and share good classroom practice - is made easier by a dedicated workroom.
It provides opportunities for schemes of work to be organised efficiently and allows an exchange of ideas, says Mr Hammond.
HoDs Homepage can be found at: www.hod.org.uk. Paul Hammond's email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
* RESEARCH GRANTS
The Teacher Training Agency gives grants of up to pound;2,500 for small, classroom-based research projects by individuals and up to pound;3,500 for collaborative proposals. Typical studies would examine such things as: core skills, especially numeracy and literacy in primary schools and at KS3; early years teaching; ICT; special needs; behaviour management; teaching assistants; critical thinking; responding to cultural diversity; homework; gifted children and management.
The scheme is open to all teachers in England, including those in independent schools.
The closing date for 1999 applications is April 11. Further details on 0845 606 0323.