Changing roles of Heads of Department: A Queensland case

Year: 2008

Author: Rosenfeld, Peter, Ehrich, Lisa, Cranston, Neil

Type of paper: Refereed paper

There is little doubt that devolution of responsibility to schools and the growth of school-based management have impacted upon the role and workload of school leaders. Not only Principals have been affected by these changes as Welch (1996) argues that Principals of public secondary schools have passed responsibility down to Deputy-principals and to Heads of Department. As such, the Head of Department role, like other school administration positions, has undergone significant change. Of interest to this paper is the changing role of Heads of Department in secondary schools.

This study reports on the findings of semi-structured interviews with eight Heads of Department from four public secondary schools and Principals from each of these schools in South East Queensland. Four years after the first set of interviews, two heads of department were reinterviewed. Both sets of interviews focused upon the role, change, and the importance of leadership.

The research generated eight specific themes each of which was considered consistent with the nature of the role in a period of significant cultural change. These were the difference in perceptions regarding the Head of Department role, held by Principals and Heads of Department; Head of Department leadership in terms of a curriculum framed department or whole school leadership; how individuals perceived leadership, and how they learned of leadership; the impact of the changing culture upon the individual Head of Department; the growing influence of situational factors upon the role; the impact of managerialism; the changing nature of a secondary school department; and a growing and more complex workload, and the need for different skills. Furthermore, the findings pointed towards the need for effective change processes and a reconceptualized head of department role. The paper concludes with some implications for the ongoing professional development needs of Heads of Department.