Not so long ago, only large maths or English departments had an official second in command. These days, departmental deputies are de rigueur, and even in a department of three, it's not uncommon to have a nominated number two. But while the post has become widespread, the job itself varies enormously - and is not to everyone's liking.
There are some second in departments (SiDs) who feel they do too much. "My head of department (HoD) is a couple of years away from retirement," says a put-upon SiD in London.
"Anything they don't fancy, or anything that is new, they pass on to me." On the other side, there are those who feel they don't do enough.
"I'm in charge of ordering resources and that is it," says another SiD in South East England. "I have absolutely no say in how the department is run."
Generally speaking, you should ensure that whatever duties you take on are in line with the allowance you are paid. An advertised post in a large department can carry a TLR1 (Teaching and Learning Responsibility allowance) worth about pound;8,000, but most SiDs are paid far less, and some receive no allowance at all.
For young teachers in particular, the thought of an official title can be enough of a lure, but don't allow yourself to be exploited.
The post works best when the head of department is willing to distribute responsibilities rather than delegate chores. "I'm in charge of GCSE entries, developing our assessment system and maintaining the website," says Ben Pearce, second in maths at Bishop Stopford's School in Enfield, north London. "But there are many other areas where I work closely with the HoD and we bounce a lot of ideas between each other."
While SiDs sometimes get stuck with the paperwork, they can still play an important role in driving a department forward. "The job is what you make it," says Sarah Matthews, second in geography at Cheltenham Ladies' College.
"I have been involved in lots of initiatives and able to pursue projects that I have wanted to, such as working with our sixth formers to send care packages to Afghanistan. Being proactive has been the key to enjoying the role and not becoming dissatisfied."
For most teachers, being departmental deputy is a stepping stone. Ideally, it makes sense to take on a little more responsibility each year, for three or four years, until you feel ready to go for promotion.
"I'm currently applying for a head of English job," says Deane Marwa, who has spent four years as SiD at a London comprehensive. "I have been able to show in my application that I have already done most of the things they are looking for."
HOW TO MAKE IT WORK
- Persuade your HoD to give you overall responsibility in certain areas.
- Ensure your level of pay is appropriate to your duties.
- Keep a portfolio of your achievements. It will be useful when you apply for HoD jobs.
- Use your position as second in department to access middle-management level CPD.