Head of department: what does the role involve?


Becoming a head of department might seem like the next logical step in your teaching career. 

There are many different routes if you would like to develop your teaching career, becoming a lead practitioner, SENCO, or continuing to thrive as a classroom teacher are some of many. 

However, becoming a head of department might be something which piques your interest if you are interested in leading and developing a team, curriculum management and running departmental and whole-school training in your topic.

The role can also vary depending on the school you are working in. You could be leading a team of 15 members of staff in a large multi-academy trust or a department of 3 members of staff in a small independent school.

At Edapt we support many heads of departments and middle leaders at schools in England and Wales. You can access employment support and advice for your role from our team of professional caseworkers by subscribing today.

In this article, we look at the roles and responsibilities of a head of department, how to become a head of department and link to examples of job descriptions.

How do I become a head of department?

You will want to develop your practice as a classroom practitioner first and feel comfortable with taking on additional responsibilities within your department.

There may be a second in department position available or a TLR which you could apply for which allows you to develop many of the skills and attributes for the position.

Your second in department position could focus on a specific Key Stage or an improvement area in the school which you could lead on, for example, whole-school literacy training. Shadowing and working closely with your current head of department will develop your leadership skills and the expectations for the role.

In addition, you might decide to apply for a National Professional Qualification in Middle Leadership (NPQML) which could support your application.  

If you feel unable to progress at your current school you may decide to apply for a head of department position in a different setting.

Head of department: job description examples

Great Marlow School in Buckinghamshire has a job description for a head of department. Specific responsibilities include:

  • To have an enthusiasm for the subject which motivates and supports other subject staff and encourages a shared understanding of the contribution the subject can make to all aspects of students’ lives
  • Develop and implement policies and practices for the subject which reflect the school’s commitment to high achievement through effective teaching and learning
  • Ensure that staff are clear about the importance and role of the subject in contributing to pupils’ spiritual moral, cultural, mental and physical development, and in preparing pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life
  • Use data effectively to identify pupils who are underachieving in the subject and, where necessary, create and implement effective plans of action to support those pupils; analyse and interpret, relevant national, local and school data, plus research and inspection evidence, to inform policies, practices, expectations, targets and teaching methods

On the topic of leading and managing staff the head of department will:

  • Help staff to achieve constructive working relationships with pupils; establish clear expectations and constructive working relationships among staff involved with the subject, including through team working and mutual support; devolving responsibilities and delegating tasks, as appropriate
  • Evaluating practice; and developing an acceptance of accountability
  • Performance manage staff as required by the school policy and use the process to develop the personal and professional effectiveness of the staff
  • To act as a performance management team leader for identified teachers; to ensure the performance management arrangements are effectively discharged by the other team leaders in the department

Notting Hill and Ealing High School in London has a job description for a head of English

It explains, the head of department has responsibility for leading their department in the senior school, in fostering a love of the subject at every level and promoting it within the school. Accountabilities of the role include:

  • Contributing to whole school policy‐making and strategic planning as required by the head
  • Preparing, monitoring and updating annual departmental plans in consultation with colleagues
  • Taking the lead in ensuring that school policies and strategies are embedded in schemes of work and departmental plans

In terms of teaching and learning the job description states, that the role will need to:

  • Promote excellence in teaching and learning to ensure all pupils develop their potential
  • Exemplify in own practice first class teaching skills and ensure that good practice is shared throughout the department, including good classroom management
  • Ensure that a suitable learning environment is maintained throughout the department and that rewards and sanctions are applied as appropriate

Head of department interview questions

When applying for the head of department position as well as being observed teaching, completing assessment data tasks and how you would provide feedback to colleagues you will be asked a range of interview questions. 

Some of these might include:

  • How will you motivate and inspire all members of staff within your department? (Some who may have another 20 years teaching experience than you?)
  • How does your vision for the department fit within the overall school vision?
  • What do you think are the key areas of improvement/areas of strength within the department?
  • How would you raise concerns about exam malpractice within the department?
  • How would you practically prioritise the aspects of the role? (You may be asked to complete an in-tray exercise).
  • What personally interests you about your subject area? Why do you think pupils at this school should be excited to learn your topic?
  • What do you think the current challenges are within your curriculum?
  • How will you work with other head of departments within the school?
  • What do you think will be the major challenges for the wider teaching profession in the years ahead?

Was this article helpful?

The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
While Edapt has sought to ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date, it is not responsible and will not be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences, including any loss arising from relying on this information. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence. If you are an Edapt subscriber with an employment-related issue, please contact us and we will be able to refer you to one of our caseworkers.