Image courtesy of Jason Rodgers
Last year at school, I was seriously considering my options. Career progression is often a little slower in the RE Departments of Catholic schools, but it's a sacrifice I am willing to make. I work in a good school, where the majority of the students are amazing and lovely. I also have always had in my head that I wanted to 'walk before I could run' having seen inexperienced staff in positions of responsibility and been somewhat out of their depth. However after 8 years of teaching, including 3 as Assistant Subject Leader in RE (significant in a RC school, thankfully with a sizable TLR payment), I wondered what my next move would be. A few Head of Department jobs came up and I was seriously tempted to start the application process...
Then two of the PDCs (Pupil Development Coordinator; known as Heads of Year in most schools) handed in their notice and a third retired. The general expectation from all is that I would apply, get the job and do it well. No pressure whatsoever!
I did apply, I did get one of the jobs and I was given the PDC role for Y10; a tough and daunting prospect given that I had never even been a KS4 form tutor! However it was in plenty of time for a good handover, plus plenty of planning and reflection time before the 1st of September.
In my research, one of the first things I came across was Andrew Old's blogs from 2010 entitled Good Year Heads, see <here>. I had mixed emotions when reading it... (and it is best if you read Andrew's post before reading on with mine!)
Did I have enough? It would be my 9th year teaching, 10 if you include my PGCE. Year heads always have to have an authority as well as wisdom; often you don't get second chances to get things right. I also didn't know if this was final aspiration or not, and I still don't. However I have always considered myself as having interest in a pastoral role and so it was simply 'taking whats there' in terms of career progression.
Thankfully I am known for enforcing rules, sometimes I've even been called mean. Behaviour management is so important to all teachers, and as a HoY, this extends beyond the classroom and into other peoples classrooms too. I knew I would have high expectations and, despite the hassle it causes me, I have enforced these. I have returned to basics, outlining my exact expectations for form times, uniform et cetera and put in all form rooms as a point of reference for students and tutors. I have an ever growing collection of 'diamonte' earrings on my desk too.
I totally agree with Andrew on this, no one appreciates a HoY as an appeaser who becomes 'a friend' to the students. I back up every single member of teaching staff when dealing with students. You do pick up a lot of behaviour issues, some that you perhaps shouldn't have to, but the message always has to be the same, you must behave, no excuses. This does not mean you cannot also be a listening ear and champion to the students in your year group.
Helpfulness with Workload
As HoY, I've realised that you need systems that are simple and effective. I do remember what it is like being a form tutor, and it can be a nightmare! Our school now has a duel tutor system, so there is more time to do the admin tasks but I do always try to alleviate unnecessary pressure where possible. Our CP (Citizenship and PHSE) programme has often been an issue, but this year I have tried to produce the lessons by Tuesday at the latest, ready for the Thursday lessons. I have also organised a number of whole year sessions allowing them to sign planners thoroughly and without distraction.
I try my very best to do everything I say I will, follow up with every one I say I will and keep every promise I make! I think it is for others to comment on how well I do this, but again I have lots of systems in place to help me. If someone stops me on the corridor, I ask them to email me or write it down too, I have a to do list prominently on my desk, I have various filing systems with my email and various trays and files, plus two diaries. It seems to be working reasonably well... It is easy to receive 30+ emails a day, with a significant number needing some kind of response. However I've also learnt how to assertively say "no", or "That's an issue for the Head of Department", or "What sanctions have been put in place so far?".
Andrew concludes by pointing out, "...year heads can make such a difference, more than other middle managers, more than most SMT...". Already I've realised the reach and responsibility of the Year Head, and in particular the way in which many staff look to you to solve problems (from the really big stuff to the trivial stuff). However I've also realised that actually, when you can find the time, you can solve many of these by having the bigger school-wide picture, access to various agencies and better understanding of the whole child and their situation.
As I reached my first half term, I then read John Dexter's blog about Heads of Year (see <here>), who points out, "If middle leader subject staff are the engine room of a school the HoY role is the engine oil keeping the school running smoothly." . John goes on to explain the reasons why some may consider the job of HoY and there is no point in me simply repeating what he already articulates well. He highlights the depth of complexity involved in the job and dealing with students and their problems. It really is key reading for all Year Heads and aspiring Year Heads, and perhaps SLT to remember what their pastoral team are having to deal with!
I'm just going to highlight two bits from his post:
"Be prepared – some colleagues will think you are too soft, that cup of tea in your office after Rudolph did that; others will be the opposite and think you were ridiculously harsh to force the detention over that so-called trivial event. So sure sometimes you can’t win but you are the reality of loco parentis and tough love needs mixing up with the bridge back."
This absolutely sums up what I have found so far. Sometimes I worry what people think about my decisions, but then I remember that I can't please everyone and not many would be willing to take up the position purely for this reason; it is hard work!
"Ultimately the success of a number of pupils is definitely down to the pastoral system of which they HoY is in a critical position. Knowing your pupils and families is the key. This job is about: relationships, relationships, relationships and a frequent stepping stone into more senior roles in school."
I do think that coping with the pressures and workload as Head of Year can only be good preparation for any future roles. I frequently struggle with my marking at the moment and I am pleased that my teaching is secure enough to cope with the new interruptions to my day. The relationships side is so key, with your year group, your form tutor team, your line manager, SLT, the head. Relationships take time, they allow for odd slips up, but ultimately everyone needs to know you are committed to the task and work hard to achieve the best for everyone.