Ted says

21st May 2004 at 01:00
Dear Ted

Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

As a senior primary teacher, I work at least 50 hours a week. I'm thinking of applying for a deputy's post, but dread even longer hours. Is it a sure route to an early grave?

A study of deputy heads in the 1960s showed there were two kinds: the career deputy, who could do everything the head did and would probably get a headship one day, and the old lag who was given the post as a sop, usually responsible for little more than pinning notices on the staffroom noticeboard. The second of these types has now virtually disappeared and today's deputies do a tough and demanding job. Indeed, they may belong to headteacher unions and are often regarded as equal with heads.

The hours will vary, depending on the size and complexity of the school and its problems, the nature of the teaching and support staff, and the area in which the school is located. Most of all they will be dependent on the head you work with, and the extent to which this person is involved and effective.

If you find a vacancy in a school where you like the look of the head, it will make a big difference to your job satisfaction and personal welfare.

The obverse of this is too awful to contemplate, as head and deputy need to be a team.

One major demand of the job is maintaining and forging links between the head and the staff. Heads may be out of the school or become isolated because of the many demands on them. Good deputies lubricate the working of a school by being credible and effective, so there is no big divide between a remote and insensitive "senior management" and a downtrodden proletariat.

You need to ask yourself what you want to do in the profession. If you like taking on responsibility, supporting your fellows, dealing with problems, meeting parents and thinking about the curriculum, a deputy's job might appeal to you, whether you eventually want to be a head or not.

You say

Get your priorities right

Ask to go on a professional development course that covers time management.

Until your work-life balance is right in the post you hold now, you'll find any new role difficult. I used to put in excessive time, but shortened my hours by prioritising and by deciding what was essential. It has helped me enjoy the work I do as a primary deputy, and my colleagues are glad to see I'm human, with a life outside school.

I recommend the job, particularly if you find a post that has no class responsibility, as you will have the chance to work across the whole school and to develop clear projects for school improvement. It may take lots of interviews to get the post you want - and they will probably include a presentation - so create space for completing applications. But go ahead: deputy headship is a great challenge.

Lesley Mycroft, Burton on Trent

Learn how to delegate

You must develop a mindset that recognises the importance of a work-life balance. You owe it to yourself, and the school, that you take time out to recharge your batteries. Realise that you are not indispensable. Learn how to delegate, particularly those things you do well and with which you are familiar, so you can support the colleague to whom the task has been delegated.

Differentiate between the urgent and the important. Not everything urgent is important; some things can be ditched or delegated to enable you to attend to the important. Tackle those tasks that may, at first sight, seem daunting or distasteful but are, nevertheless, extremely important.

If you can manage to keep some of these suggestions in mind, your workload will reduce and you have no reason to fear a deputy headship leading to an early grave.

David Sassoon, north London

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