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Are you headteacher material? Sir Tim Brighouse puts you to the test

Accompanying the 6 November issue of TES is a free supplement: Aspiring Leaders. Half of this 76-page guide is aimed at teachers seeking middle leadership jobs, and the other half is targeted at senior leaders aiming for headship. Written by experts from the teacher profession, a sneak preview is below in the form of a feature from Sir Tim Brighouse.

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Before you decide to apply to be a headteacher, imagine you are a pupil in the school you wish to lead and ask yourself what they would want from someone in that position.

It’s likely that those pupils would say that they want a leader who shows an interest in each of them, who listens well, tells good stories and who is good at asking questions that cause them to think, rather than someone who dictates “right” or “wrong” answers. 

They would want someone who encourages them to see mistakes as an opportunity to learn and who is eager to show that they are a learner, too. And they would want someone who will talk to them at break and lunch times, and who knows what they enjoy – someone great at making them enthusiastic about learning.

Does this sound like you? It’s an important consideration, and it’s one of several key aspects of being a headteacher covered in this first-ever issue of Aspiring Leaders. It’s likely that the qualities, skills and behaviour that have made you into a really good teacher will win the respect of the staff you lead, but you also need to put staff development at the top of your “must never forget” list – do that and you won’t go far wrong.

Crucially though, to be a good headteacher you need to be able to adapt in order to be the leader that your students need, which is more difficult.  

And that’s not all, of course. You’ll have many stakeholders – the larger the school, the more there will be. So one of your “before I take up the post” tasks will be to learn as much about them as possible – staff, students, parents, governors, and movers and shakers in the local community. You will need to get off to a flying start and quickly enable people to see that who you are, what you say and what you do all match, and that you can be trusted.

Then you’ll need to know a lot about school improvement to guide you through the subtle differences of context that are characteristic of all schools. 

In addition, there’s more to learn about the law, multi-agency work, use of data and a whole host of other things that will crop up.

Choosing staff, too, is important. You should ensure that all lead on something and are respected for that. And remember, if in doubt, don’t appoint.

Finally, there are three crunch questions that you have to be able to answer positively if headship is for you:

  • Do you have the energy, enthusiasm and hope required for the job, and do you communicate that to those around you? 
  • Do you have the resilience to show unwarranted optimism, and to regard crisis as the norm and complexity as fun, while maintaining a bottomless well of intellectual curiosity? 
  • Do you believe with a passion that brooks no denial that all pupils, whatever their background, can walk a step or two with genius and that your staff will embrace the aim that all students will grow up to think for themselves and act for others?

I hope the guides to the various aspects of headship that TES has put together in this issue of Aspiring Leaders helps you on your chosen path. If you still think it is the job for you, then I wish you good luck. 

And a final piece of advice: on your first day as a new headteacher, put Kipling’s If on your office wall – just to remind yourself never to succumb to self-pity.

Sir Tim Brighouse is a former schools commissioner for London. The Aspiring Leaders supplement is free with the 6 November issue of TES. 

To read the full supplements, get the 6 November edition of TES on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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