Dear John: Am I too old to be an assistant head?


I am a 43 yr old female teacher with 20 years experience in several schools. I have been HoD in 2 schools and HoY in another and am now KS3 coordinator, managing three HoYs, a pastoral manager and have responsibility for primary liaison/transitions too. Over the past four years I have applied for several assistant head posts and have had interviews for nearly all of them; however I have not been successful in being appointed.

I think I conduct myself in a professional manner and feedback has been positive such as ‘the kids would love you, but the person we have appointed is already doing the job’ etc. I read a post of yours on this forum giving statistics such as x% of candidates were under 40.

I have noticed at recent interviews that I have probably been the oldest candidate. Do you think I’m too old? I have made this comment to my present head and he tells me not to be daft - but equally is slow in giving me opportunities to improve myself. He tells me he is happy with my work and that I would be a loss if I were to leave so I can only presume that my reference is ok.

My second referee (a deputy head who works closely with me) is always upbeat about the initiatives and projects I run so I know her reference is good.

Any tips anyone? Or should I give up?


Much may depend upon where you live. The distribution of assistant head vacancies is not even across England and Wales. They are more frequent in the south than the north. It does seem true that a significant proportion of appointments go to those who have not yet reached 40. This is particularly difficult for those who have slow tracked their careers for family reasons; there is too much attention to fast tracking in my opinion.

Do keep trying, and also point out to your current head that HJohn Howson worked as a secondary school teacher in London for seven years before moving into teachertraining and consultancy, includinga brief period as a chief government advisor. John is now a recruitmentanalyst, visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes Universityand hosts our Career Clinic where you canpost questions to himeads of Sixth Form are often appointed on the Leadership Scale and that if you are co-ordinating three year groups, you have a similar level of responsibility.

You might look for roles within the authority or others close by that are advertised in the general job pages of the TES. The fact that you are getting interviews means you obviously have something valuable to offer, but it is not being recognised by governors.

I am also worried that you are so valuable to your present school that the head, whilst giving you a good reference, might also unwittingly be signalling her wish to keep you in your present post, where you are obviously a success.

There will be lots of jobs in January and February, and that will be the time for a real go at finding another job. Good luck.