Career clinic

16th September 2011 at 01:00
This week, headteacher Teresa Tunnadine advises on flexible working and promotion prospects

Time off with a new child

I am a subject leader in maths, and my wife recently gave birth to our third child. We would both like it if I could take some time out of the workplace to support her for three to six months and feel in a financial position to do so as long as I returned to my position as subject leader. What is the best way to approach my headteacher about this request and ensure that I retain my position?

Maths teacher, Essex

Initially, refer to the school's leave of absence policy as this situation might be referenced there. Also try to find out if other staff have asked for, and been granted, this kind of request in the past.

Additionally, this is one to discuss with your headteacher as soon as possible. The answer will vary from school to school depending on a range of factors. These will inevitably include how experienced and effective your department is, whether it is "overstaffed'" (ie has more teaching periods than it needs to run the timetable), and the preparedness - and willingness - of others in your department to take on acting management responsibilities.

Mathematics is a critical department in all schools, not least because its results are reported in the national league tables.

The state of your school's budget may also affect whether your request is received favourably.

To summarise: if there are enough maths teachers to cover the vacancy, plenty of able staff ready to take on leadership roles, your maths results are excellent and the school wishes to save some money - or if saying "yes" to this kind of request is simply part of the school's culture - you may be in luck!

Ready for more responsibility

I have been a classroom history teacher for several years and feel confident in my role. I would like to progress on the career ladder to a position of further responsibility, perhaps involving a pastoral role. But I find my current school quite cliquey, and opportunities seldom arise that haven't already been earmarked for other staff. How can I put myself forward for promotion without seeming pushy, and who is the best person to approach about this?

History teacher, Cardiff

There should be someone (or several people) in your school responsible for staff development and succession planning. This might be your head of department, the senior leadership team link with your department, or someone on the senior team who has this as a designated part of their role. You may also have senior pastoral staff you could talk to about your aspirations.

You could then "volunteer" to take on specific pastoral tasks. These might be devising strategies for improving punctuality for specific students in the year group, planning a trip or residential experience, contributing to the writing of the pastoral curriculum or delivering assemblies. Or you could ask to shadow a pastoral leader to help you gain further experience. It will also enable you to see if this new role really does interest you after all. I am not sure from your question whether pastoral work is your passion or the only avenue you think might be open to you in your current school.

I would start, out of courtesy, by talking to your head of department. They may well be able to suggest the best person for you to talk to. In many schools, this "next career steps" discussion is often part of the performance-management process. This provides an ideal time for you to raise the subject of your aspirations (even if your manager does not pose the question about your future) and ask for specific advice about what you might do to prepare for this career move.

From what you are saying, however, you might have to change schools to take on this kind of role - either by moving directly into a pastoral role or making a sideways move to a school where staff development opportunities would allow you to develop in this area. In the meantime, any "volunteering" you can do in your current school would also support such a move.

Teresa Tunnadine is head of Compton School in Finchley, London, and a National Leader of Education

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Information provided is general guidance and not legal advice. Only printed questions will be answered.

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