23 Jan 2020
Heidi Drake finds a book whose relevance goes far beyond the role it is designed for
I have found myself at a career crossroads this academic year. Do I go down the pastoral or subject-based route? As an English teacher, it makes sense to approach this problem like I do every other in my life; through reading a book. Therefore, I leapt at Jon Tait’s Succeeding as a Head of Year.
First things first, it is a great read. The writing is accessible and interesting, with a good mix of information and real-world examples. I read it in one sitting!
If you’re contemplating applying for a pastoral care role or just joining the profession, this book offers a realistic look at the nature of the job and how it differs from that of a classroom teacher. When so many teaching courses don’t cover tutoring or leading a team in any real detail, it was refreshing to see these concepts explored without any assumption that the reader has prior knowledge or experience.
Tait explores the processes of applying and interviewing for these roles: the explanation of the sort of tasks you might face was so clear that it should be read by everyone planning on moving into middle and senior leadership.
Pastoral leadership is vital to the good functioning of schools
I would also recommend the chapters on leadership and setting standards to anyone in teaching. The importance of working as a team is made clear throughout and Tait provides excellent advice on establishing the various teams that make sure pastoral leaders and their work are successful. He regularly reminds readers of the importance of considering all stakeholders, as improvement will only follow if all these people are lead and supported. But he doesn’t neglect the needs of individuals and there are reminders in all sections about the importance of dealing with individual cases as just that.
The section on rewards contains suggestions that I know full well would be unlikely to work in my current context, but that is my only criticism – and it is a pretty rubbish one as the section also has some excellent ideas that I’m certainly going to try. The fact that it gives as much importance to rewards as sanctions makes it clear that Tait has put a lot of thought into supporting others to make pastoral care central to inclusive practice.
Succeeding as a Head of Year in places operates as a workbook, with regular pauses for self-reflection. This mirrors Tait’s key contention that the role of head of year (and other similar roles) is pastoral leadership that is vital to the good functioning of schools. Anyone thinking of a move ought to have deeply thought about it and carefully considered the implications before firing off their application.
Which takes me back to my crossroads. While the opening chapter says that it is entirely possible to be a head of year and a parent – that the work/life balance is possible – it also points out the amount of organisation that goes into making it balanced so that nothing gets lost along the way.
This book left me in no doubt about how much I love being a form tutor, how important the role is to me and how crucial it is that schools get the right people to lead pastoral teams. It has also left me aware that I don’t think it’s the right road for me to take right now.
And that’s probably the most valuable thing Succeeding as a Head of Year does. It helps you realise if it’s the right thing for you.