Skip to main content
article icon

Next step - How do I become ... a deputy head?

Features | Published in TES Newspaper on 13 February, 2009

Being a deputy takes dedication and hard work, but with the opportunity to lead and to teach the rewards are great

Whether or not you see it as a stepping stone to headship, being a deputy is a rewarding job in its own right. It's also a demanding one. Deputies work just as hard as heads and 55 or 60-hour weeks are par for the course.

Deputy heads are the second most senior people in a school, and would assume overall responsibility in the absence of the head. The post is a key member of any school's senior leadership team and many deputies progress to headship.

"But as a deputy, the buck ultimately stops with someone else," says Geoff Brookes, author of How To Be A Deputy Head, and a deputy for the past 18 years. "So it needn't consume your life in quite the same way as headship does."

True. But it's also the case that more and more schools are being run along the lines of "distributed leadership". Instead of simply carrying out the head's orders, deputies are being given key areas of responsibility, along with the power to make changes and shape policy. If you're in middle management and thinking of becoming a deputy, try to get plenty of leadership experience under your belt. Good results and neat paperwork won't be enough. You'll need to show that you have developed your department and taken it forward in line with your vision.

Becoming a deputy won't necessarily mean saying goodbye to the classroom. Deputies typically teach around a third of a timetable - though it will be more than that in a small primary, less in a large secondary. It's a juggling act, and it probably explains why deputy heads are often the last people to leave school at the end of the day. On the other hand, many deputies say that what they love most about the job is that it offers the best of both worlds. A chance to lead, and a chance to teach.

Job descriptions for the post can vary widely and larger schools may have two or three deputies, each with their own areas of responsibility. Some posts are focused on academic standards, others on behaviour and pastoral care. When applying for jobs, think about where your strengths lie, read job details carefully and try to find something that suits. And be honest with yourself. "You should be doing it because you want to help others, not because you want promotion," says Geoff. "If it's all about your own ambition you won't make a good deputy head."

John Thompson has been deputy head of St Michael's C of E Primary in Bracknell for 29 years and during that time the role has changed a great deal. "When I started out, a deputy was expected to be the leading teacher in the school, and to act as a buffer between the head and the staff," he says. "These days it's much more of a leadership role. I'm responsible for curriculum development in maths and design technology, and for analysing the school's key stage 1 and 2 data. I'm also in charge of health and safety, continuing professional development, behaviour and healthy eating. It's a varied job."

He advises: "You need to be a good listener, a good organiser and you need to show empathy towards your colleagues and give them constant encouragement. It's also an advantage if you are seen to be an effective teacher - someone who can model new ideas in the classroom. That's often the best way to get staff on board when you're trying to make changes."


- Salary Varies widely. Paid on the 43-point leadership pay spine, in line with experience, responsibilities and size of school. A deputy should always be paid more than the highest paid classroom teacher. Most primary deputies earn between Pounds 35,000 and Pounds 50,000, most secondary deputies between Pounds 45,000 and Pounds 75,000.

- Who can apply? Assistant heads, heads of department, or anyone with similar experience.

- Key qualities. Good communication skills. Eye for detail. Willingness to embrace change.

- CPD. So You Want To Be A Successful Deputy Head Teacher? is a one-day course run by Lighthouse Professional Development. See

Subscribe to the magazine

4 average rating

Comment (2)

  • For me this article provided a great insight into the way the role of a deputy head has changed and I just wanted to jot down my experience of an issue raised “distributed leadership”.

    I am a huge advocate of distributed leadership as a means of creating an effective team who are less dependent on any one individual and therefore continue to thrive even when key team members of absent, even just for short periods.

    Someone a long time ago told me that the best manager he knew spends significant proportions of his day with his feet on his desk reading a newspaper (I am now imagining him sitting there with the TES).

    I didn't really understand what this meant until I tried distributed leadership for myself and it works! By empowering my team through effective delegation, great listening and resisting the urge to ‘tell’ my team what to do, the pressure has been taken away from me to 'do' and I have more time to 'be'. I now have time to plan, to strategize, to support my team when they need me and I am able to react quickly when there is a fire that needs fighting and my full attention is required.

    Okay so I haven’t been caught with my feet on the table, but I do afford myself the luxury of giving myself time to get outside for a breath of fresh air for 20 minutes most days.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    18 February, 2009

    Hannah Jones

  • Distributed Leadership can also be a hinderance if a commitment is not fully made to this leadership style for the leadership team...

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Add your comment

Subscribe to TES magazine
Join TES for free now

Join TES for free now

Four great reasons to join today...

1. Be part of the largest network of teachers in the world – over 2m members
2. Download over 600,000 free teaching resources
3. Get a personalized email of the most relevant resources for you delivered to your inbox.
4. Find out first about the latest jobs in education