You need muscle to head today's department

6th June 1997 at 01:00
Effective Heads of Department by Phil Jones and Nick Spark. Network; Pounds 8.95

Head of Department's Handbook. Jeff Jones, Mazda Jenkin and Sue Kirkham Heinemann; Pounds 24.50

Gone are the days when all that was required of a head of department was to be a good teacher and manager. That flabby breed has given way to a muscular new model. These two publications have been produced in response to the new demands placed on department heads in these times of a rapidly changing curriculum, greater public accountability, the publication of exam results, appraisal and inspections by the Office forStandards in Education.

Harrassed head of departments need common-sense support to guide them through the minefield of monitoring, audit evaluations, target-setting and performance indicators that are now their daily lot.

As a member of that much-maligned group, my chief prerequisite for any such manual is that it be sufficiently user-friendly and practical to merit my time reading it.

The eight broad sections of the Network book are set out like the well-made lesson, with learning objectives boxed off in bullet points. Its language is plain and unfussy and the reader is addressed in the functional, rather removed tone of a training manual written by experts. Its 72 pages are sprinkled with cartoon-style drawings, a gimmicky jollity oddly out of keeping with the slightly po-faced text.

In its favour is its clarity and down-to-earth approach. The authors acknowledge the demands placed on teachers' time.

The book's certainty and authority pares down the role of the job to its essentials and, while it leaves many gaps, it is likely to inspire confidence in a new post-holder, who would appreciate being whizzed around what is bound to be a steep learning curve with the minimum of accidents.

The Heinemann book covers a much broader range of the responsibilities in greater depth. It places the job within its wider, whole-school context, covering such issues as the recruitment of staff and how to make a capitation bid.

It seems to be informed by a greater awareness of the structure of the academic year, the nitty-gritty of school life (broken furniture and graffiti!) and suggests not just what planning needs to be done, but when it needs doing.

The authors offer questions to trigger reflection, rather than providing a blueprint for the post. They prefer shorter bullet points and checklists. At the back are 30 proformas - they can be easily adapted to suit a department's needs. The book offers actual examples of policies rather than making the obvious statement that a department needs to have them.

This book should prove a working reference that the busy head of department could dip into. Armed with the kind of work-out it provides, I would feel much more confident of sprinting, limber and toned, towards my next inspection.

* The writer is head of English at Mill Hill County School, Barnet

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