Who wants to be a head of department?

The sheer stress of running a poorly staffed subject area is putting off many potential applicants for senior roles. Karen Thornton and Robert Boyland report

EXPERIENCED teachers are being discouraged from applying for promotion because they do not want to lead teams of unsatisfactory staff.

One in three state secondaries will start the new term with an unfilled management post and more than half of these estimated 1,100 management vacancies nationally will be for heads of department, a TESSecondary Heads Association survey suggests.

John Dunford, general secretary of the SHA, said few experienced classroom teachers now wanted to take on the responsibility and stress of running a poorly staffed maths or languages department.

"The adverse effects of teacher shortage tend to fall disproportionately on heads of department, who have to pick up the pieces. Being head of a maths department in which there are no other qualified teachers and a couple of temporary appointments is a very difficult job. People are just not willing to take it on," he said.

The survey illustrates the problems facing heads and department leaders, especially in shortage subjects. It suggests more than 3,200 teachers - almost one in every secondary - are taking maths, English, science and language lessons when they are not qualified to do so. These same subjects now account for around half of the estimated 3,700 classroom vacancies.

Maths is facing meltdown. Although applications to teacher training are up, it is unlikely that all the available places will be filled.

Dr Sheila Kaye, head of Whitgift school in Grimsby, is already short of a head of science, and this year expects to lose both the head and deputy of the maths department when they retire. She has given up trying to find a head of information and communications technology.

She has not had a single applicant for maths teaching posts, but is unsure why staff are reluctant to be head of department. "I don't know why people are not willing to move up. The alternative is to sit and do the same job for 30 years," she said.

At Central Foundation girls' school in Bow, east London, 11 teachers have been teaching outside their expertise to cover the English, maths and science timetable. Six of the maths teachers are overseas-trained and awaiting qualified teacher status in the UK.

Head Patricia Hull, who has 30 new recruits starting this term, said: "We are an oversubscribed and popular school in east London. If we are experiencing difficulties in recruitment of UK-trained teachers, what chance has a school in less fortunate circumstances?"

Meanwhile, heads complain that keeping schools fully staffed is becoming a full-time job in itself, leaving them little time to push forward the Government's standards agenda. They rate nearly one in five of their newly-appointed staff as unsatisfactory, a figure little changed from last year despite a fall in the number of unfilled posts.

Robert Hanman, head of St Mary's Church of England high school in Hendon, north London, is still short of one schience and two maths teachers after making 15 appointments for this September.

He said: "Ensuring that the school is fully staffed has taken untold hours of management time, which would be better spent on the priority of raising standards."

Leader, 14

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