Becoming a middle manager in the FE sector

As an experienced first line manager or senior teacher, you may be looking to progress your career and move into a middle management role. Although structures vary between institutions, middle managers usually assume responsibility for a department. But how can you make the leap and balance teaching and management?


Middle manager

As someone with teaching experience, you are likely to have good communication and organisational skills. However, managing a department will require additional expertise when it comes to empowering colleagues, prioritising the needs of different curriculum areas and identifying the strengths and weaknesses of a team.

At the same time, moving into middle leadership usually involves careful consideration of your work/life balance. The conflict between moving forward in your career and balancing the structure of your day is something you will need to consider, especially when you have additional responsibilities to interact with a department and senior leaders.


Performance management

Organisation is crucial as a middle manager, along with making sure everyone in your team knows what is expected of them. To help you manage your time effectively, you may find it helpful to write a list which prioritises the tasks you need to do on a regular basis and take into account times of the year when your workload is going to increase, for example:

  • When you will plan, prepare and assess students’ work (for example, moderation, pupil progress, data analysis, exam entries)
  • Preparation for inspection visits and external meetings
  • How you plan to keep up-to-date with policy changes, cutting edge research and current issues (for example, by tapping into relevant social media channels, blogs or SET’s online research library run by EBSCO)
  • How you will facilitate meetings with team members in order to collaborate and discuss issues, such as behavioural and performance-related problems
  • Managing flexible working within your team to enable colleagues to have time to work away from distraction
  • Self-evaluation and continuing professional development (CPD)

Leadership – not just about soft skills

In order to be an effective manager you will need to continue to develop your communication skills. As well as being able to relate and present information, this means developing the ability to:

  • Empathise with the needs of individual staff members
  • Display authority and be assertive when the need arises
  • Prioritise and adapt – with a larger workload made of more diverse parts, you will need to identify what tasks to complete first and demonstrate flexibility when unexpected changes take place

Understanding your team and their unique needs is crucial to the role of a middle manager. “When I took over my team of 16 people, most of them were older and more experienced. found that encouraging their ideas and leading them to find their solutions worked better than a more autocratic management approach. In the fast-paced environment, showing determination and dedication is crucial.” Sabeena Shah, Curriculum Leader for Access and Adult Provision at Barking and Dagenham College.


CPD needs

You can plan how you progress your Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and identify any gaps in your skillset by using the CPD tool on the My SET dashboard (available to SET members only). Here you can carry out a self-assessment of your knowledge, skills and understanding against the Professional Standards {link}.

Having identified areas you need to address, you now need to consider any opportunities for formal training. The availability of funding for CPD may vary between institutions, but most employers encourage staff to complete relevant courses and improve their expertise, depending on funding. As well as more intensive study, there are many online webinars and courses available to support you in developing your leadership and management skills.

It’s not always easy to broaden your experience with an already full timetable, but with the support from a department head to take on additional responsibilities and assist middle managers you will be able to gain a closer understanding of the role you are aspiring to fill.


Support and guidance with mentoring services

Finding a suitable mentor can be extremely useful when it comes to connecting with those in a similar position to yourself. In February 2018 SET launched a mentoring service to enable members to support each other through common areas of expertise. This, alongside SET’s local network meetings and online forums, will enable members to seek advice and share common practice in order to develop their professional career.

SET also delivers a video-based e-learning Introduction to Mentoring programme to give members the skills to support them in their role as a mentor. The programme is underpinned by the National Occupational Standards for Coaching and Mentoring and the Professional Standards.


Further information

The Leadership Hub provides access to a wide range of support and resources, providing skills development for leaders, managers and those involved in governance from across the Further Education and Training sector

Foundation Online Learning (FOL) provides a range of information about online CPD opportunities

The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) website offers a range of information, courses, research and events focusing on leadership, training and support in further education

FE Advice provides an information and advice service for those working within the sector