SIX years after becoming head of maths at Thomas Bennett Community College, West Sussex, Gill Beeney was asked if she wanted to go on a course called Managing the improving department. This was the first time she had been offered such training and her immediate reaction was to wonder if she was doing something wrong.
Ms Beeney is convinced that any department, however effective, is capable of improving, and that even experienced subject leaders can benefit from the chance to step back and reflect on their work.
"The last two terms have been about thinking what I want to change. Now I know that I'm going to be able to put in place new structures which are going to help the department," she says.
Developed by the West Sussex advisory service and Alma Harris, director of the Centre for Teacher and School Development at Nottingham University, the course is unusual in being spread over a year, with six half-day workshops and a conference at the beginning and end.
The structure of the programme has been central to its success, according to Jill Wilson, associate adviser for secondary management "One-off inset days do not work," she says."You can inspire people, but it's very hard to go back into school and make changes on that basis."
The est Sussex programme is based on the premise that the key to improving the quality of teaching and learning in secondaries lies with heads of department. Pointing to research by Dr Harris and others which shows that the differences between departments are greater than the differences between schools, Jill Wilson argues that it is for heads of department to turn their headteachers' vision into reality.
The course emphases planning and target-setting and looks at the barriers, both practical and psychological, that often stand in the way of change. By combining academic input with school-based work, it is able to meet the needs of both new heads of department and those with several years' experience.
"It's for you to decide what your aims are and to justify why those are your aims," says Owen Pigott, who has been head of technology at Holy
Trinity school in Crawley, since September 1998.
One of his aims was to agree a common approach to teaching with the other members of his department. This and other changes he has introduced have helped to create a 16 per cent improvement in GCSE coursework grades in his department.
West Sussex is exploring
offering further courses for middle managers and those aspiring to such posts.