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Head of Maths - the demands

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by pwc9000, Mar 11, 2012.

  1. pwc9000

    pwc9000 New commenter

    As I contemplate the possibility of making the jump to a Head of Maths post, having gathered experience in roles of responsibility below this level for the last few years or so, I have been talking, to anyone willing to engage in conversation on the topic, of the demands of the Head of Maths role. Often the conversation has led to the following question, or something similar:
    Is Head of Maths at a large comprehensive school one of the most demanding jobs in education?
    Any thoughts?
  2. pwc9000

    pwc9000 New commenter

    As I contemplate the possibility of making the jump to a Head of Maths post, having gathered experience in roles of responsibility below this level for the last few years or so, I have been talking, to anyone willing to engage in conversation on the topic, of the demands of the Head of Maths role. Often the conversation has led to the following question, or something similar:
    Is Head of Maths at a large comprehensive school one of the most demanding jobs in education?
    Any thoughts?
  3. lancsHOD

    lancsHOD New commenter

    It is certainly a key position in schools these days...headline figures for league tables.
    %A*-C including Maths and English
    % of pupils who make expected progress in Maths
    Best 8 subject calculations include Maths and English.
    My biggest frustration as a HOD has been staffing the department. I have far more experience than I would like dealing with supply teachers due to staff absence. A lot of HODs have to deal with many non-specialist teachers as well.
    One of the most demanding jobs: it certainly is very demanding. Juggling teaching quality lessons yourself, managing staff to do the same and all the intervention that is required.
  4. A few points...

    It's a tough job that demands a lot of time and energy on your part. You are basically accountable for 50% of the key measure that your school will be judged against. You've got to know that your efforts are taking your team in the right direction and are offering the students the best education you can provide.

    You've got to balance that against the demands of SLT/parents/governors, the wants of the students, the needs of your staff and the expectations of OFSTED. However, though it is a tough job, it's not an impossible one.

    For me, you must invest in you and your staff. Unless your school is in the 0.1% where every teacher is a high achieving, OFSTED 'outstanding' teacher, you're going to have to put the time into developing a team that is willing to push their students and treat their role as more than an 8.30-3.30 job.

    Getting good with data is also key. Which students are underperforming? What are their weaknesses? How can you gain secure judgements about student progress? How can you estimate student performance at GCSE?

    However - you get to forge a department (mainly) based on your priniciples, implementing your ideas and hopefully taking credit for the success subsequently achieved.

    I think everyone with the ambition and skill to be a HOD should experience it. It's a demanding job but ultimately a very rewarding one.
  5. googolplex

    googolplex Occasional commenter

    I don't know about being one of the most demanding jobs in education. But if, like me, your managers give you the autonomy you need to do the job well, it's certainly the best, IMO, and I've been through a few, including pastoral management and SLT. If I was to put one piece of advice above any other, it would be to put the needs of your staff first. Otherwise, the role is as big and demanding as you may choose to make it.
  6. Try Head of ICT!

    Not many of 'em are easy; you need to get into senior management for that
  7. I find it difficult and very tiring, but to be honest I was ready for a new challenge and a wider area of influence. Like many roles in schools, people reassure me that the early years are difficult, but the hardwork will pay off as the faculty moves closer to where we want it.
    Line managing others, especially uncooperative staff (I could write soooo much more on this).
    Dealing with parents which can, quite rightfully, be time consuming.
    Maths as a subject rather than a measure. It can be very difficult to fight for your subject as something kids have a right to explore and enjoy rather than a factory for improving 5ACE&M.
    Admin. I know many HoDs struggle with being managing all of the deadlines and paperwork efficiently. There are times of the year when you're drowning in exam entries and reports to SLG.
    Staff absence. Probably the most immediate and soul-destroying factors. Suddenly finding out at 8.30am or later that you're now responsible for setting a day's worth of cover on top of your own responsibilities is stressful. Got someone off all week? Nobody's problem but your own.

  8. pipipi

    pipipi New commenter

    Well , good luck. I tried and failed to be a good HOD.
    Part of the reason I went for it was that I had plenty of experience and had seen other younger people go and be Hods of other departments, and thought if they could do it, then so could I. And I still think that to be honest.
    But in the school I moved to, there had been a lot of staff turnover, which continued whilst I was there. My biggest failing was not hanging onto decent staff. I tried to be an encouraging HOD and help them with CVs , rather than be one who was upset by them leaving. And I think that's how it should be. Encourage staff to be the best they can.
    Meanwhile I just couldn't get any replacements. Just supply staff. For terms at a time. And a few year long contracts that I only gave jobs to because there was no one else. ( I remember arguing with the Head about what more I could do. I had put adverts everywhere, even on mymaths, been to local PGCE providers, and still couldn't get anyone, and the budget will only allow TES a few times).
    I tried to run meetings in an interesting way. Discussing how to teach a particular topic rather than just spout a list of whatever we were meant to pass on. Pass on ATM magazines or look on Enrich site.Possibly the biggest waste of my time was some of the rubbish SLT meetings I had to attend and then do work on. Like writing Literacy Protocol, then having to tell dept, then observe lessons to check this was being implemented.
    Too soon I'd had enough. Gained weight. Gained blood pressure. Lost family time. I had a performance target to meet, massively improved from initial position but still not quite reached and was told I'd failed Performance Management that year. Took that as a strong hint!
    But the final straw was realising that my lessons were suffering. Now I've got no great claim to be the best teacher in any maths dept. But I was well below my personal expectation. Partly because I had little time to plan, answer emails, parent calls, analyse exam results etc. Partly because I was getting called out of lots of lessons to try and help a colleague with discipline in another maths class.
    Now I'm somewhere else as a classroom teacher. I have a HOD who looks stressed with silly meetings to attend and strategies to implement. I've offered to help but he's too busy to find time to meet with me to discuss what I can help with.
    I'm a bit embarassed to tell people that I used to be a HOD. But I'm so enjoying being able to focus on actually teaching again. And I smile! Sometimes a kid asks why I'm smiling and I tell them its because I'm teaching maths. And its true.
    Perhaps if I'd had better management skills. Better recruitment skills. Who knows.
    Best of luck to you. Don't lose the smile![​IMG]
    andrew146 likes this.
  9. googolplex

    googolplex Occasional commenter

    As with any job in teaching, if you do absolutely everything you're supposed to do, there wouldn't be time for sleep! I've got teachers with five years of experience in my department who think they need to plan every lesson in detail, with powerpoint presentations, books marked to the nth degree, all boxes ticked. They then break down mid-term because they've been working all weekend, every evening, most of the holiday and wonder where their life has gone.
    If that's you, don't become a head of department. First and foremost has to be to achieve a decent work-life balance. If you don't think you can manage that, then look elsewhere. I manage this by doing certain things well, and learning to ignore other issues. Prioritise. And, one such priority has to be to know when to stop work, and do other things...
    That having been said, pipipi's experience sounds dreadful...
  10. Maths_Mike

    Maths_Mike New commenter

    pipi - My experience is virtually identical. SMT demanded the Earth but gave little if anything in the way of support.
    So consumed by HOD that lost track of my own teaching to a degree. Now at a new school with plenty of A Level and more time to enjoy life again.
    A bit worse off but much happier.
    andrew146 likes this.
  11. As someone who has retrained as a Maths Teacher in my mid-40s and prior to this worked as a senior/middle manager in IT related Programme Management roles, I am amazed at the lack of support HoDs in general get in terms of budgetary responsibility, time to manage their staff, time to do the admin and management of the dept. I had 10 staff report to me and was expected to spend about 25% of my time managing them and about 10% of my time doing the managerial admin required by my role. It was a push to get all of that done even then. So the equivalent for HoDs of similar size team ought to be (assuming a 50 * 1 hour per fortnight timetable) HoD time of about 15+ hours and then a 10% reduction of whats left for PPA.
  12. pipipi

    pipipi New commenter

    Maths Mike - I'm glad you are in a happier place, I definitely am.
    There are all sorts of factors. It would have been very different becoming a HOD in a dept thats already established, with reasonable results. It would have been very different being able to replace good staff (and being a good school that could attract good staff more easily would definitely have helped).
    Sometimes it looks like the Premier League with successful managers being given lots of support to implement their vision with their teams at the top of the division. Other teams down the bottom get a new manager every 12 months.They want to avoid relegation. We want to avoid Ofsted! Try reading that Brian Clough story 'The Damned United' .
    I haven't ruled out trying for HOD again. But I will be a lot more careful.

    And an interesting point about management time. I suppose it would greatly depend on the size of dept you had, which is probably determined by how big the school is. Maybe a rule of thumb is 2 hours for every member of staff? Or 1 hour for every 100 pupils? It would be kind of interesting to find this out.
  13. googolplex

    googolplex Occasional commenter

    To be fair, my timetable works out pretty much as you recommend: 16 teaching periods out of 25 with 13 teachers in an 11-18 school with 1800 students. I only have one other post holder in the dept. It seems to work for me. If others are being asked to cope with less, then that might well explain how difficulties may emerge...
  14. pwc9000

    pwc9000 New commenter

    Some very interesting thoughts from everybody. Thank you.
  15. frustum

    frustum Star commenter

    I don't think management time should necessarily be linearly correlated with size of department.
    I moved from a large department (about 11 fte, 8 of the old management points besides the HoD) to a small department (about 3 fte, and most of the time the other two were either non-specialist, NQT or overseas trained - nobody to delegate to).
    In the large department, people other than the HoD had responsibility for assessment, setting, tracking, mentoring NQTs, ITTs, syllabus development, resources, ICT, ... The HoD just had to manage, and deal with parental queries (although "is my child in the right set" was usually done by the KS coordinator).
    In the small department, the HoD had to do everything.
  16. pipipi

    pipipi New commenter

    Yes, sorry. There needs to be a minimum amount of management time. And maybe it's inverse if you start having deputies and teachers with other roles, the HOD has less to do.
    And I imagine in an experienced dept, others teachers know what to do so don't need as much support. With a dept of NQTs you would probably be spending every after school with someone checking how they are going.
  17. On one of my pgce placements the Maths HoD was getting 1 period a fortnight! And he was mentoring me and another pgce student!
  18. I was just wondering what would be your opinion on what age/experience you would need to be to be a Head of Maths? Do you think you should have had a certain number of years' experience in the classroom before going into the role?
  19. googolplex

    googolplex Occasional commenter

    I've known some very effective HoDs with no more than a couple of years of experience. I've also seen useless ones with decades of experience. This is a skills-based promotion.
  20. m4thsdotcom

    m4thsdotcom Occasional commenter

    I think it depends on how the school define the role of the Head of Maths as to the person they are looking for.

    I certainly don't think age has anything to do with it nor, sometimes, the number of years the candidate has been teaching.

    How do you view the HoD role?

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