Whether or not you see it as a stepping stone to headship, being a deputy is a rewarding job in its own right. It's also a demanding one. Deputies work just as hard as heads and 55 or 60-hour weeks are par for the course.
Deputy heads are the second most senior people in a school, and would assume overall responsibility in the absence of the head. The post is a key member of any school's senior leadership team and many deputies progress to headship.
"But as a deputy, the buck ultimately stops with someone else," says Geoff Brookes, author of How To Be A Deputy Head, and a deputy for the past 18 years. "So it needn't consume your life in quite the same way as headship does."
True. But it's also the case that more and more schools are being run along the lines of "distributed leadership". Instead of simply carrying out the head's orders, deputies are being given key areas of responsibility, along with the power to make changes and shape policy. If you're in middle management and thinking of becoming a deputy, try to get plenty of leadership experience under your belt. Good results and neat paperwork won't be enough. You'll need to show that you have developed your department and taken it forward in line with your vision.
Becoming a deputy won't necessarily mean saying goodbye to the classroom. Deputies typically teach around a third of a timetable - though it will be more than that in a small primary, less in a large secondary. It's a juggling act, and it probably explains why deputy heads are often the last people to leave school at the end of the day. On the other hand, many deputies say that what they love most about the job is that it offers the best of both worlds. A chance to lead, and a chance to teach.
Job descriptions for the post can vary widely and larger schools may have two or three deputies, each with their own areas of responsibility. Some posts are focused on academic standards, others on behaviour and pastoral care. When applying for jobs, think about where your strengths lie, read job details carefully and try to find something that suits. And be honest with yourself. "You should be doing it because you want to help others, not because you want promotion," says Geoff. "If it's all about your own ambition you won't make a good deputy head."
John Thompson has been deputy head of St Michael's C of E Primary in Bracknell for 29 years and during that time the role has changed a great deal. "When I started out, a deputy was expected to be the leading teacher in the school, and to act as a buffer between the head and the staff," he says. "These days it's much more of a leadership role. I'm responsible for curriculum development in maths and design technology, and for analysing the school's key stage 1 and 2 data. I'm also in charge of health and safety, continuing professional development, behaviour and healthy eating. It's a varied job."
He advises: "You need to be a good listener, a good organiser and you need to show empathy towards your colleagues and give them constant encouragement. It's also an advantage if you are seen to be an effective teacher - someone who can model new ideas in the classroom. That's often the best way to get staff on board when you're trying to make changes."
WHERE YOU STAND
- Salary Varies widely. Paid on the 43-point leadership pay spine, in line with experience, responsibilities and size of school. A deputy should always be paid more than the highest paid classroom teacher. Most primary deputies earn between Pounds 35,000 and Pounds 50,000, most secondary deputies between Pounds 45,000 and Pounds 75,000.
- Who can apply? Assistant heads, heads of department, or anyone with similar experience.
- Key qualities. Good communication skills. Eye for detail. Willingness to embrace change.
- CPD. So You Want To Be A Successful Deputy Head Teacher? is a one-day course run by Lighthouse Professional Development. See www.lighthouse.tv.