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English Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Leading an English department

It may not feel like at times, but English subject leaders are, above all else, leaders of learning, for their department teams (if they have one) and within the wider school community.

This page aims to offer readings and resources to support those of you who are responsible for the delivery of English in your school.

Growing and supporting professional learning communities at St Margaret's College
Angela White, from St Margaret's College, outlines her school's approach to supporting pedagogical change. Angela expands on the steps involved in introducing the change, integrating the change, and then sustaining the change.

English department resources

Sucked dry (Word 61KB) This article by Noeline Wright summarises key ideas from doctoral research into heads of department in New Zealand secondary schools. The research consisted of in-depth interviews with three English HODs and observations of their working days. It is set within a context of industrial unrest in the sector coupled with smaller pools of applicants for HOD positions.

Support for leaders in NZ

School Middle Managers (Word 46KB) :This article examines the role of middle managers in schools and suggests that if schools want effective middle managers, relevant and meaningful professional development is critical.

Designing the curriculum: Guidance from The New Zealand Curriculum document for subject leaders regarding the key principles to follow when designing an effective curriculum.

A successful English department has....


  • The department is run democratically with all staff given the opportunity of genuine input.
  • Staff are affirmed and recognised in their roles and for the extra responsibilities they take on.
  • The department has a common vision and a medium term strategic plan which is derived from the school's strategic plan.
  • The department is led by a person who has vision, especially in the ways thinking and learning strategies and ICTs can be used in the English classroom, an understanding of the changes impacting on the subject area and an ability to harness team strengths.
  • Fixed term responsibilities which carry decision-making power, are shared. Detailed job descriptions are available for key delegated tasks.
  • An empowering teacher directed appraisal system is in place.
  • Job descriptions are negotiated with all department members and form the basis of discussion at an annual appraisal.
  • Policies are in place to induct new staff into the department in a planned and supportive way.
  • There is a supportive programme in place for beginning teachers.
  • There is a culture of sharing in the department, including the sharing of resources and ideas
  • All staff have access to professional development opportunities, including advisory services.
  • Staff are kept informed about national changes to their subject and the way it is assessed and certificated.
  • The department belongs to all relevant professional organisations - such as: NZATE and the local English Association.
  • Departmental members are encouraged to play a part in the decision-making processes in the wider school.
  • Social occasions and team-building occasions are part of the culture of the department.
  • All aspects of the department, including the performance of the HOD, are subject to annual review.
  • Staff within the wider school community with a vested interest, for example Learning Support, ESOL, the Librarian, ICT staff are included in the department's discussions around learning.


  • Students are taught and assessed in a variety of ways to recognise different learning styles, interests and abilities, making connections with their prior learning and knowledge.
  • Teaching and learning is informed by an evidence-based approach, responding to available student data, such as diagnostic tests, pre-assessments, pastoral information, teacher observation and so on, so as to focus on specific strengths/weaknesses.
  • Teacher practice includes facilitating differentiated learning, embedding literacy strategies into daily teaching to raise students' literacy levels.
  • There is a agreement on those aspects of the curriculum which will be focused on in a particular year to track student achievement.
  • At the beginning of all courses, students are provided with information on:-
    • the aims of the course together with its specific objectives
    •  the content of the course and where it fits into their development and the curriculum
    • course requirements and expectations
    • assessment and certification information
    • appeal procedures
    • policy on missed assessments and reassessment
    • avenues of assistance
    • homework policy
    • work completion requirements
    • guidelines for success in the subject
    • resources
    • record-keeping
  • Students are consulted or informed about all policies which affect them.
  • Learning support systems are clearly communicated to students (in translation where necessary).
  • Clinics/tutorials are widely advertised and staffed on a regular basis to provide assistance for those having difficulty and to provide reassessment opportunities.


  • Regular meetings are scheduled, minutes are kept and actions followed through.There is a clear distinction between administrative meetings and meetings held for professional development purposes.
  • All department members have the opportunity to access, and contribute to meeting agendas and receive a copy of the minutes of meetings.
  • Systems are in place for the dissemination of information from outside sources.
  • Systems are in place for the dissemination of information from the department - both within and beyond the school.
  • Ongoing internal communication systems, eg. weekly newsletter and notice-board are maintained.
  • The department maintains close contact and cooperation with other departments, especially in relation to language for learning.
  • The department maintains close contact and cooperation with contributing schools.
  • Students are kept informed about any aspects of courses or administration which affect them.
  • The department is in regular contact with its community through, eg. the school newsletter/website, specific subject related newsletters, meetings to explain and consult about changes.
  • The department has a section on the school intranet which enables the sharing of resources by both teachers and students and communication between teachers and students.


  • Are developed collaboratively and in consultation with the students and the community.
  • Are based on clearly expressed learning outcomes and success criteria and offer a variety of pathways towards success.
  • Provide a clear developmental framework for students whilst leaving room for individual teacher flexibility and the needs of particular students.
  • Reflect English In the New Zealand Curriculum.
  • Include an ongoing literacy focus.
  • Include deliberate acts of teaching reading and writing strategies.
  • Are working documents, regularly reviewed, modified and simplified.
  • Provide clear and consistent models and examples of unit planning, assessment and monitoring.
  • Are communicated to students.


  • Are easily accessed by all staff members, eg. are centrally stored.
  • Are current and reflect English in the New Zealand Curriculum, eg. there is gender and ethnic balance, a strong representation of New Zealand texts, a balance between fiction and non-fiction, short and long texts, including hypertext, graphic novels, sophisticated picture books, film. Text selection should recognise students' abilities and aspirations.
  • Budgetary information is shared with all department members.
  • Staff have input into the purchase of new resources.
  • Technological resources, eg. computers, DVD, data projectors, interactive whiteboards are available and are playing an increasingly important part in teaching and learning.
  • Ideally, textual resources are administered by ancillary staff and technological resources by a technician.
  • Resource banks are established to enable sharing of units of learning etc. These can be generated by automatic collection at photocopying sites and/or through the department section of the intranet.
  • Resources are catalogued to facilitate easy access.
  • Resources are reviewed annually with outdated resources being systematically eliminated.


  • Are comfortable, well-lit and have plenty of display space.
  • Are attractively decorated with plenty of changing student work; displays are pertinent to the learning happening in the classroom.
  • Are arranged in a way which facilitates meeting curriculum objectives especially in the oral strand.
  • Are equipped with the technology necessary to deliver the English Curriculum, eg. computer(s), data projector.

Heads of Department

  • Engage in professional reading and discussion (eg journal articles, English Online)
  • Lead a learning community centred on peer observation, critical feedback, risk-taking with pedagogy.
  • Meet with other HODs and MU holders to discuss programmes, students, professional development, mentoring/coaching.
  • Have time to:
    • lobby for resources (human, material) with the principal
    • engage in professional learning
    • mentor new and aspiring staff
    • administer tasks
    • model effective pedagogy
    • learn about using new technology with and for students
    • engaging in risk-taking with and evaluation of pedagogical practices
    • work across the curriculum, networking with other HODs to support effective language-based pedagogies and knowledge development

© Ministry of Education, Wellington, New Zealand (First published 1998)

Published on: 13 Oct 2015