The march of the assistant heads…

On twitter this week I saw some suggestion that there had been an explosion in the number of assistant heads and this had resulted in a serious impact on workload for all teachers (though let’s face it, it’s the non promoted, high timetable loaded teachers who suffer most).

After nearly 12 years teaching I have some anecdotes that can feed into this. When I started teaching I worked under an amazing Head of Science who had only ever taught at that school. After 30 years in a very ordinary comprehensive school he had seen it all. He was a family man, two nearly grown daughters and a wife who was also a teacher, he had a very sensible approach to workload and protected us from the worst stuff coming down from SLT. It was a reasonable sized school and the dept was large, 12 full time equivalent teachers. For this responsibility he was in receipt of UPS3 and a TLR1. At this time our SLT consisted of 7, one Head, 2 deputies and 4 assistant Heads. The number of assistant Heads then became 6 a few years later.

Roll forward and following the death of his wife and ramping up of pressure from SLT, my HoD decided to step down to a role with less responsibility. The advert duly came out and low and behold, our Head of Dept (Science) became an Assistant Head: Director of Science Faculty. So what happened…? Let’s do some maths, on the current pay scales take a UPS3 teacher (£38k ish) and add a mid range TLR1 (£10k ish) you have a HoD in around £48k. Now, examine the leadership scale which begins at £38k with our new director being in the L5-9 range (and always recruited to the lowest point). So we have a HoD who was in £48k and a new Assistant Head starting on about £43k, a modest cost saving. The cost saving isn’t particularly significant, what is important is the kind of work you can get from each.

At that time (pre mass academisation) teachers on MPS/UPS were protected by the ‘burgundy book’ regardless of how large their TLR was. So my HoD on £48k was bound by regulations limiting meetings, 1265 Directed hours etc. The new Director, on the Leadership scale, had no such protection. Alongside a cost saving they can get significantly more out of an assistant head. They’re not bound by Directed time hours, their responsibilities can be easily changed without consultation, multiple meetings a week are fine for them. Assistant Heads are also expected to have a whole school responsibility (though I left before they figured out what the new director’s was going to be, 2 years after she started the job they hadn’t sorted this out).

The new assistant head roles represent a play to the vanity of teachers. An existing Head of Science keen to progress would rarely apply for a sideways move, but a move onto the leadership scale (regardless of what this actually meant financially) and a fancy title, now that’s tempting!

In due course more HoDs were readvertised as assistant head ‘directors’, older staff, trusted by their teams (all UPS3 with a chunky TLR) were all managed out and replaced. A ‘Director of communications faculty’ oversaw English, media and foreign languages, a friend of mine who taught French says they rarely discussed anything except English in their faculty meetings. I did laugh when I walked into a class to borrow a board pen and heard the former Head of Business studies explaining to a baffled Year 7 that she was the ‘assistant head: director of applied learning’. As a fast track teacher I observed some SLT meetings where a leadership team of 14 struggled to get through the agenda of the week in less than 3 hours. Even worse, one of the directors felt the need to justify her position by discussing how many girls in years 10 and 11 were wearing the wrong trousers for 20 minutes.

So what’s the link between assistant heads and workload? Each new director/assistant head was supposed to have a whole school responsibility. Whilst some proved to be less than visionary we were spared their contribution to our workload but others went to great lengths to prove their worth. One of the new assistant heads took reponsibility for lesson planning. This resulted in the roll out of a whole school planner, a vast spiral bound thing that was to be collected in weekly to make sure it was filled in properly. By that time I was very loyal to my Pirongs planner, I had no issues with lesson planning, was considered a ‘good’ teacher, few discipline issues, good progress and results etc. I did show willing (for about a week) with the new planner. That week it added 6h to my planning. This was on top of me having a timetable loading of 22/25 periods a week (yes that’s 3h allowance a week for planning, marking and recording). After that I regularly ‘forgot’ it, I got quite good at evading capture! There were other directives, cross referencing schemes of work to make explicit the links to applied learning (I remember a particularly juicy row about what the point of quadratic equations was between a maths teacher and the Director of Applied Learning!)

I left the school not long after, by that time there were redundancies planned and though some shrinkage was planned for the SLT, it was nothing like that experienced by the wider teaching staff. So, I don’t know how things ended up and if things are more sensible these days. Many of my colleagues from that time have moved on, some managed out (£££), others who were marketable decided to seize the opportunity while they could. I do know that despite their best efforts, none of the new Directors and only one assistant head managed to trade up to a deputy headship in the intervening years.

It’s a shame we have seen assistant headship used as a recruitment/ retention incentive and perhaps we’re victims of our own vanity. The incentive of an official leadership post and a fancy title overcoming the devil on the shoulder urging us to examine the terms and conditions. Employment conditions for teachers are even more insecure so I suspect we won’t ever get back to the days of being able to say ‘no’ because of the security of the burgundy book.

Anyone else have similar tales?

[As an aside, I’m not a fan of the ‘faculty’ structure in schools. I currently work 3 days a week in the School of Chemistry (70-90 academic staff) within the Faculty of Science and Engineering (thousands of academic staff). No school is so large, the only purpose of faculties seems to be to add another administrative layer within a school structure (and Mike more assistant Heads…)


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