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Role conflict among heads of department in Singapore secondary schools

1996, Tay, Hui Yong

The Head of Department (HoD) post was instituted to achieve the twin objectives of providing instructional leadership in various subject areas and enhancing the career prospects of promising young teachers. Since the inception of the HoD post, there has been little empirical data on Singaporean HoDs' experiences and the challenges they face in fulfilling their role.

Studies conducted elsewhere suggest that HoDs face problems which arise because the role of HoD is not a single entity but a combination of a few distinct roles. Hence, they experience conflict when the expectations of these different roles are incompatible. In addition to role conflict, the multiple expected roles also cause HoDs to experience role overload and person-role conflict.

This study investigated the extent and nature of role conflict among HoDs in secondary schools and the relationship of role conflict to HoDs' perceptions of their duties. An original questionnaire was used to assess the various dimensions of role conflict among 156 English language and Mathematics HoDs in 103 secondary schools. The study also explored interrelationships among role conflict and : (a) respondents' satisfaction about their performance as HoDs ; (b) respondents' reluctance to continue in the HoD role; and (c) respondents' demographic background and school characteristics. Respondents were asked to rate a number of HoD tasks in terms of how much effort they: (a) actually spent on each task; (b) believed was expected by their principals; and (c) believed was ideal. In an open-ended question, HoDs were invited to write freely on matters pertaining to their work or the dimensions addressed in the survey.

Quantitative analyses revealed a moderate level of role conflict among HoDs. Among the three aspects of role conflict surveyed, role overload ranked highest. Contrary to reports from the studies of HoDs in other countries, there was no significant difference in the amount of role conflict experienced among HoDs classified according to demographic and organizational characteristics. This suggests that the difficulties that HoDs face may be inherent to the position and not due to background or contextual factors per se. Higher role conflict was significantly correlated to lower performance satisfaction and less willingness to continue as HoD.

In relation to specific HoD tasks, the study indicated that the HoDs' time was largely spent on middle management tasks. HoDs preferred to give higher priority to the instructional programme (IP), and they perceived that their principals also assigned a higher priority to HoDs being involved in the IP. T-tests revealed that HoDs' perceptions of the amount of effort they devoted to various tasks were: (a) significantly lower than the effort expected by their principals in most tasks; (b) significantly lower than the HoDs' ideal in Curriculum Planning and Supervision; and (c) significantly higher than the HoDs' ideal in Middle Management. HoDs also appeared to differentiate between IP and non-IP related management tasks. The comments written by the HoDs in the open-ended item underscored and illuminated the nature of role conflict experienced.

Overall, the findings suggested that the HoD's many roles require more time than the HoD has available. Based on the findings, it was recommended that the limited time that the HoD has outside of the classroom should be spent primarily on tasks that carry out the purpose for which the post was instituted; namely, providing instructional leadership.