Nine tips for new secondary heads of maths
How to lead a happy and successful department
Being a head of maths is a challenging job with significant responsibility. But it can also be a satisfying and varied role with the chance to impact positively on a team of teachers and hundreds of students.
If you’re new to the post, there is a lot to consider. We asked several experienced heads of maths what they would recommend to new HoDs, including what they wished they had done or would do differently if they did it again! Below are some of their ideas. But don’t try to do everything at once, or even in the first term or year—particularly if you’re moving into the job at a new school, where it’ll be important to value what existing team members are already doing. You could simply start by trying out one or two of the ideas below.
In the short-term…
1. Form good relationships
As well as forming good relationships with your departmental colleagues, get to know your line manager/SLT link and establish how you will work together and communicate. Is email best, or a weekly catch up chat after school? Speak to other middle leaders too, especially those in core subjects, and get them to share how they found the role early on. A few five-minute conversations over a coffee can give you some invaluable pieces of advice.
2. Summarise your courses and curriculum on a side of A4
You will know your curriculum and the courses you offer inside out. But not everyone does. Stakeholders – parents, governors, even your line manager if they are not a maths teacher – could benefit from seeing your curriculum summarised on a side of A4. Think about giving a brief overview of the rationale behind your curriculum, what you cover when, which exam boards you study, and how assessment is structured. Keep in mind an audience of people who are less familiar with what you do and write it with them in mind. Minimise jargon!
3. Put a maths question on the department noticeboard
Once a week, put a maths question on the noticeboard in the department office, encouraging informal discussion during break and lunchtime. You can then pick the conversation up at the next more formal meeting. Keep a record somewhere of all these weekly topics, and share out the responsibility of posing the weekly question. This keeps everyone involved, including new teachers and even non-specialists who might be teaching in your department.
4. Speak to the students
Even if you don’t have the opportunity for a formal student voice, spend a few minutes in a lesson – either at the start or towards the end – asking students about their maths lessons. If you’ve moved schools, it’s particularly important to hear from the students about what they enjoy – and don’t – about maths. It might not be easy, but encourage the students to be positive or at least constructively critical, rather than just having a moan!
5. Produce a weekly bulletin for your team
A regular email bulletin can be a superb opportunity to formally acknowledge and thank staff for work they have led or been involved in during the previous week, ensuring they feel valued and recognised. It can also summarise the week ahead – key information, important upcoming dates/deadlines – and give an overview of where all year groups are in their schemes of learning. Taking the time to write and share a bulletin will help things run smoothly, and make sure vital information is not missed or overlooked by staff. It gives them everything in one place, rather than filling their inbox with dozens of emails.
In the medium-term…
6. Determine your focus
Once you’ve spent a few weeks in the department, you may have identified what’s working well and what you want to change and improve. Choose a focus, remembering you can’t (and shouldn’t) change everything at once. Once you’ve identified your focus, and before discussing it in the department, talk it through with your SLT line manager, to keep them in the loop.
7. Ask for ideas for department meetings
Department meeting time is always at a premium and there will be dozens of things you want to get through. But when you do have any time available in a meeting, ask your team – well in advance – how they would like to spend it. Do they want to look at how a recent assessment was marked? Or review a unit of lessons from a scheme of work that hasn’t gone as well as hoped? Give them the chance to contribute and share the reality of their classroom experiences. Getting their buy in will make them far more likely to contribute actively and positively.
In the long-term…
8. Make connections with other local HoDs
Leading a department can feel like a lonely job at times, and it’s great to hear from others in the same role who can really empathise with your challenges and questions. Your local Maths Hub has a ready-made ongoing collaborative professional development project you can join, and your locality may also have networking opportunities. However you do it, staying in touch with other HoDs in any way can prove invaluable, as well as reassuring.
9. Give your team time
The best thing you can give your team is their own time back in any way you can. Look for opportunities for teachers to share planning, in pairs, small groups or as a whole department. This can be both rich CPD and a time-saver for less experienced colleagues. Try to finish meetings ten minutes early and only share communications with the people that need to see them so they don’t waste time reading emails and documents that don’t affect their work. And be ready to give your own time when people need it – it will repay you in the long run.
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