Supplement your qualifications
Since the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) became non-mandatory in 2012, the route to the top has become a little more complex. Although a formal qualification remains the most popular route to headship, many recruiters see in-school experience equally valuable.
“To be a really good head you have to experience elements of the role that you can’t access independently until you’re actually doing a version of it’ says Nichola Smith, headteacher at Meadstead Primary Academy in Barnsley, South Yorkshire.
“For me, the NPQH has been beneficial but in partnership with other training.”
Shadow your current head
Having a head that is willing to show you the ropes is invaluable. According to a recent survey, almost 40% of new heads claimed that shadowing their old boss was a key factor in preparing for their current role.
"Mentoring from an experienced head, placements and job shadowing are great accelerators, exposing future heads to real-life experiences and lessons," says chief executive of Ambition School Leadership (ASL), James Toop.
Become an all-rounder
Showing your versatility is key to convincing governors you’re right for their school. Teaching will rarely be your main priority and the strategic vision for the school will often give way for more practical concerns.
“Absolutely everything will be your responsibility,’ says John Rutter, headteacher at Inverness High School.”
“You will be, along with everything else on your remit, head janitor, chief first-aider and occasional receptionist. So be prepared to wash up pupil vomit, dress wounds, buy the office milk and drive the minibus.”
Get to grips with the finances
“In my experience,” says head John Tomsett, “new headteachers rarely understand the intricacies of the school budget. Thankfully, there is much you can do now as an aspiring leader to ensure that you are better prepared if you get the top job.”
With school budgets coming under increasing pressure, headteachers have to know how to balance the books. This is something that will inevitably come up at interview and it pays to have some experience you can reference.
“Shadow the school finance manager and get to know the detail of the school budget and the annual rhythm of budget planning,” says John. “You could also volunteer to manage a significant element of the school budget and accept the accountability that comes with such a responsibility.”
Behave like a headteacher
“One of the key things that always strikes me,” says TES recruitment director, Michael Watson, “is that the persona of a leader is often missing. A lot of candidates, certainly those who are deputy heads, they still have the persona of a deputy head.”
While Michael admits that gaining experience and implementing whole-school policy is essential in your route to headship, you need to make sure you can take ownership of the outcomes and talk about them with confidence.
“What you really need to convey is a leadership quality,” says Michael. “Most candidates have leadership experience, but they just find it very difficult to explain. There’s a slight arrogance to it, but you’ve got to project yourself as a leader, through your application form and through your interview.”
Choose a school that’s right for you
If you’ve put in a huge amount of groundwork on your way to headship, don’t ruin it by choosing a school where you won’t last. Choosing a school that fits with your own personal teaching ideology will vastly improve your chances of landing the top job. In addition, finding governors that support your vision will make your life a lot easier once you’re in position.
“It is easy to be fooled into thinking that the selection is one way – that the school chooses you,” says Keziah Featherstone, headteacher at the Bridge Learning Campus, Bristol.
“But like any real partnership, it has to be a two-way process. It is essential that you find the right place and do not rush into promotion.”