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Next step - How do I become ... a headteacher?

Features | Published in TES Newspaper on 8 May, 2009

Commitment, stamina, leadership skills and love of a challenge - a headteacher should have all of these

Initiative overload, long hours and a reputation that is laid on the line every time Ofsted pays a visit. No one becomes headteacher for an easy life. And yet a 2005 MORI poll found that 91 per cent of heads enjoy their job.

They like the variety, the challenge and the chance to make a difference - not just to individual students, but to whole schools, and even whole communities.

So what does it take to do the job? Good heads need to have both management and leadership skills. They have to ensure their school runs smoothly on a day-to-day basis, while at the same time developing a strategic vision for the next five to 10 years.

Beyond that, there's scope for all kinds of different styles. Some heads like to be out in the corridors, patrolling and cajoling, while others stay behind the scenes, forging links with business and the community. There's no right or wrong approach - it's about playing to your strengths and doing what's best for your particular school.

The workload is heavy and these days few heads try to run the whole show themselves. Instead, they make full use of their assistants and deputies by devolving responsibility across the team.

Once you have got the hang of running one school, there's no need to stop there: its increasingly common for successful headteachers to take on two or more schools, becoming executive heads who oversee several leadership teams.

If you're serious about making it to the top, then the career path is simple enough. From April this year, new heads in England and Wales must hold the National Professional Headship Qualification.

The NPQH (which was re-vamped last year) is aimed at teachers who are hoping to step up to headship within the next year. Working online, with a personal tutor and running projects at both your own and a placement school, the course covers everything you need to know. Depending on previous experience, you may be able to complete it in as little as four months.

Once you've got NPQH under your belt, start scouring the jobs pages. Every year there are about 2,000 primary and 400 secondary vacancies, and that figure could rise, with more than half of all current heads expected to retire in the next five years.

So, in theory, the market is stacked in your favour. "Last year, around a third of primaries and a quarter of secondaries had to re-advertise because they couldn't find a suitable candidate," says jobs expert John Howson, of Education Data Surveys.

"But within the wider job market there are lots of mini markets. Anyone looking for a headship in a successful school in a middle class area will find it's very competitive."

To give yourself the best possible chance of landing a job, you need to target posts that match your experience.

Headship applications are time consuming and interviews can last two days, so do plenty of research before applying. Above all, you need to be sure that headship is the right step for you to take.

"Being head is a huge responsibility," says Prue Barnes, interim head at Daubeney Primary School in Hackney, London. "I was a deputy for six years, but what's different when you're head is the overall accountability. Nothing can prepare you for opening that letter from Ofsted and seeing your name at the top.

"It's a tough job, and I often work a 60-hour week, but I keep weekends and holidays free, so I have some balance. In any case, it's worth all the hard work, to see your vision for a school become reality."

Next week: Teacher in an international school

Where you stand

- Salary: Pounds 40,000-Pounds 75,000 for primary heads. Pounds 60,000 for heads of small secondaries, rising to over Pounds 100,000 for heads of large secondaries, executive heads, and academy principals.

- Key qualities: Drive, passion, commitment - it has to be more than just a career move.

- Qualifications: Most heads are promoted from deputy. NPQH is now mandatory for new heads in England and Wales. In Scotland, the Scottish Qualification for Headship isn't essential, but strengthens your case.

- Next steps: The latest application round for NPQH is now open. Check the National College for School Leadership website to find out about regional taster sessions,

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Comment (5)

  • if you are deputy head and the head teacher then leaves,then deputy steps into acting head teacher the head position is then open but no one takes it but then two weeks later the deputy is then given the head teacher role ,can she then pick any teacher to become deputy and acting deputy or do they have to also have nphq ,as a deputy head left and then another teacher was put in place the next day

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    9 September, 2010


  • can a secondary headteacher also be a primary headteacher

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    22 July, 2013

    Dabir Khan

  • I have just moved from secondary teaching to primary and have been told that I could be a Head within 10 years. I'm very ambitious and driven but more for the learning of the children. Waht do I need to do to start climbing that ladder?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    23 September, 2013


  • Hi please can you advise me how you moved from secondary to primary? I am currently a secondary teacher, but would like to move into the primary sector? Many thanks

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    25 February, 2014


  • Can a person who has had previous experience
    Of deputy headship apply to be a head even if they
    Are only a class teacher now?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    18 July, 2014


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