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Career Clinic

This week Professor John Howson answers questions about being pipped at the post and assistant headship

This week Professor John Howson answers questions about being pipped at the post and assistant headship


I have just had my second interview for deputy head and have failed both times. What makes this time so difficult is that I was one of two candidates interviewing for the post in my own school. I am bored of just being a classroom teacher and want the next step.

If you just missed out, and the school was able to provide a credible reason why it did not appoint you, pick yourself up and start applying for other deputy posts.

Meanwhile, take any advice you can get from your school about the experience you lack. You may also want to analyse the reason why the other candidate was preferred to you.

It is a natural first reaction to feel that the school has let you down, but if it has been made clear that the other candidate had something to offer that you did not then there is a good reason why you were not appointed. You may feel let down because of everything you have done for the school, but you need to overcome this resentment as you still have to work there.

So far you have had only two interviews and if that is the result of the only two applications you have made it can be considered a good outcome: many do not make the interview cut. If that is the case, I would expect you to be successful within the next year - assuming you have everything else it takes to be a good deputy head. You should review the overall feedback and consider what further professional development you may need to equip you to be successful in that post in the future.


I am currently a head of sixth-form. What training should I be considering over the next few years if I wish to apply for an assistant headteacher post? Will it be necessary for me to have a master's degree and how do I keep up to date?

I am sure a higher degree will help, especially if the course has an element of leadership development within it. Obviously, you need to understand whole-school issues, as senior leadership team positions are concerned with all the pupils in the school and not just one group such as the sixth-form. In that respect heads of department often have more experience than teachers like you who have only managed a section of the school. However, you may have other advantages, such as more experience of dealing with parents and outside agencies.

Anything you can do to acquire some experience across the school will no doubt be helpful, even if it is an unpaid task. Most books on leadership, especially those that relate leadership to educational values, will be worth reading as they will help you to understand the difference between leadership and management and administration.

If you have not visited the National College for School Leadership pages at then make a point of doing so. They contain some valuable material. It will be worth sending for a few job specifications for assistant head vacancies and matching your present experience with what schools are looking for. Although posts at this level often have a specific focus, there are also general characteristics that will be expected of all applicants.

If you want to progress your career you should find ways to keep up to date both in your area of responsibility and more generally. The House of Commons Education Select Committee recently highlighted the importance of continuing professional development, and those who invest in their own professional development invariably find that it pays off in the long run.

Professor John Howson is our resident career expert, with 40 years in education, including spells as a teacher, academic, school recruitment researcher and government adviser.

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