How to handle your leadership resignation

Resigning from a leadership role can be an emotional time for all involved, but there are ways of making things easier. According to our experts, being open with your superiors and knowing your deadlines will help make your departure a much happier one.

Tes Editorial

A Teacher Leaving Their Job

Handing in your leadership resignation will be a testing time. The thought of pastures new or feeling of satisfaction at grasping another rung of the career ladder will probably be clouded with a feeling of guilt at leaving your existing school.

Hopefully your departure will leave big shoes to fill, but by managing the situation well you can ensure that both you and your school come out of it in good shape.

Preparing for your leadership resignation

To avoid giving your governors a shock, you can manage your leadership resignation before you’ve even started looking for another role. Making sure your next move is part of discussions with your line manager will make an eventual parting of ways much easier, says Deborah Wain, former chair of governors at Tanners Wood Primary School, Hertfordshire.

“Headteachers need to be open with governors about what their aspirations and plans are so governors can support them”, says Deborah.

“Leaders in the school need to ensure that they’re having robust conversations around personal development and objective setting,” she says, “and governors need to be better at having those open conversations with leaders, too.”

“Governors should have a sense of the bigger picture, that there may well be the case that a leader does want to move on if they have ambitions,” says Deborah. “That should be something that’s totally understood and ventilated.”

Know your deadlines

Whether your leadership resignation comes out of the blue or not, getting the timing right is crucial. Handing in your notice in good time gets the stress out of the way and allows you to concentrate on your job; it also gives your school the best possible chance of finding a suitable replacement.

“In the old days it was very simple and all state-maintained schools would work to the same time frames,” says Michael Watson, TES recruitment director.

“Because there are so many academies now, and in academies there are different contracts, you do need to check your contract,” says Michael, “particularly if you’re part of the leadership team. If you’re a chief executive you could be on as much as a six-month resignation period,”

Headteachers in UK state schools must legally submit their resignation by 30 April to be able to start at their new school in September. To begin a new role in January the resignation must be tendered by 30 September and to start in April the deadline is 31 January.

For deputy heads and the rest of the leadership team the deadlines fall a month later, so resignations would need to be received by 31 May for a September start. Outside of the state system individual contracts can vary.

“For leaders in independent schools they could have two terms’ notice,” says Michael, “so it’s much lengthier. If you’re looking to start in September you probably need to resign by Christmas.”

Don’t jump the gun

Giving your current school as much time as possible to recruit a replacement is something that many applicants worry about. However, Michael warns that handing in your resignation before you’ve sealed the deal with your new school can leave things in a bit of a pickle.

“If it were me I would always wait until I’d signed the contract, it just means that you’ve tied up all the loose ends”, says Michael.

“With an email offering you the job you could say to your school that you’re happy for them to go ahead and start to recruit,” he says, “but I would caveat that with the fact that it is an offer in email and you haven’t signed the contract.”

“The worst case scenario is that the school spends some money advertising the role ahead of someone resigning when they don’t end up leaving," says Michael. "If they don’t leave then the school is in a good place, but if they do leave then the school has already prepared itself to move forward very quickly."

Don’t burn your bridges

It’s a small world and you never know when you might cross paths with a former head or governor. Regardless of the situation surrounding your departure, Michael suggests keeping the resignation neutral and professional. If you do end up leaving the school with little time to find a replacement then there are options to make amends. 

“I’ve worked with many candidates who’ve said they don’t want to leave the school in the lurch,” says Michael, “so they've asked to take up the new role on the basis that they start at a later term. That would be the compromise I’d suggest to candidates if they really want to look after the school that they’re leaving.”