Career Clinic

16th March 2012 at 00:00
This week Professor John Howson answers questions about headship headaches and a subject quandary

Small school worries

I have been the headteacher of a small rural primary school for two and a half years. The local authority seems intent on closing small schools. The budget for qualified teachers is small and the overpaid teaching assistants cannot be removed, according to our human resources department. I am the only earner in our home and I am wondering whether I would be better off either returning to the classroom or looking for a senior post below headship as my health is starting to suffer.

I am sorry to hear of the many problems you face. If you see a suitable deputy headship, do apply. It is not unknown for heads to take such a step and the pressures on you certainly justify it.

A deputy post in a federation might be worthwhile to learn new skills for when you do feel ready to return to headship. I cannot advise quitting the profession in the present climate, as returning might prove extremely difficult. And you definitely should not leave without another job to go to. These are times of unprecedented change, but the government is going to find that it cannot dismantle the whole of the primary sector as pupil numbers will increase significantly over the next decade.

If you have not had a chat with your doctor, it might be worthwhile doing so, not least because of your health problems.

I think that you need to be more assertive with the human resources department over the teaching assistants, especially if they are taking up too much of the budget. The Department for Education website has a financial calculator to help you prove your case.

Life can seem bleak as the head of a small school with budget challenges, especially if the chair of governors is not particularly supportive and the local authority is unhelpful. Talking to other heads of small schools through your professional association may also be a worthwhile move, as I suspect that you are not alone in facing these stresses.

Geography or maths?

I am currently an experienced geography teacher running a small department, but for the past couple of years I have also been privately tutoring GCSE maths. I now teach maths at my school up to and including key stage 4. Although I love geography, there is a great deal of appeal in teaching more maths. What do you recommend I do next?

In your position, I would apply for a head of geography post at another, larger school and offer to teach maths as a sideline. Or, even better, statistics, as this can be useful to A-level geography students and also helps younger pupils in subjects where the understanding of data is important. But you will only be able to do this if you have any spare time, and running a larger department will make that less likely than at your present school.

When you reach the senior leadership team - or even headship - you can get a head of department to let you teach anything. But why not find time to take some maths modules through the Open University or another higher education institution in order to strengthen your subject knowledge?

It is true that, at present, there are more teaching jobs on offer in maths than geography, but there are probably the same numbers of heads of department in the two subjects, since most schools have one of each. This advice is based on the assumption that you want a career in schools and are not content to spend the remainder of your career in your present school.

If you are content to stay where you are and not so ambitious, then you will still need to weigh up whether you can teach more maths without compromising the teaching of geography, as that could mean you lose the teaching and learning responsibility post you have running the department.

We cannot always have everything we would like and you may well find you are faced with making a choice. Of course, whatever you decide at school, you can still undertake the private tutoring in maths outside of school time.

Professor John Howson is our resident career expert, with 40 years in education, including spells as a teacher, academic, school recruitment researcher and government adviser.

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