Career goals: which school role could you take next?

Are you looking for the next step in your career but wondering which direction to take? Gemma Corby explores the possibilities

Gemma Corby

Where could your career take you?

One of the great things about teaching is the opportunity to progress and shape your career in ways that play to your strengths and interests.

For those who are interested in the development of young people through a holistic approach, the pastoral route may appeal. 

Or for those with a passion for pedagogy and their subject, the curriculum route may be preferable.

That’s not to say that the two are mutually exclusive (there is a lot of overlap).

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Head of year/house

The head of year (HoY) or head of house (HoH) plays a vital role in ensuring the wellbeing and development of the individuals in their care.

HoYs/HoHs also have a strategic role, where they consider specific areas that their cohort needs to focus on, such as attendance or GCSE preparation.

Successful HoYs/HoHs are organised, have a clear vision of what they want to achieve and are not afraid to have difficult conversations.

Some teachers make the leap straight from form tutor to HoY/HoH, although they may have taken on extra whole-school responsibilities beforehand.

Some larger schools have deputy HoYs/HoHs; a role that offers insight into the head role, as well as practical experience. HoYs/HoHs often progress to the senior leadership team.

More on how to become a head of year

Tes Perfect Match

Head of key stage

Responsible for the planning, teaching and learning for a specific key stage, a head of key stage is accountable for maintaining standards and ensuring progression.

The role suits people who are passionate about driving up standards; you'll need to be a proficient and confident teacher as well as an effective communicator.

Planning new shared schemes of work is good experience for this role, as is acting as a mentor for any student or newly qualified teachers.

Head of department/faculty

The head of department (HoD) or head of faculty (HoF) plays an essential role in the shaping and delivery of the curriculum in a subject area.

You need to be able to get your head around data, such as Progress 8, and track the development of different groups of students. You will also be expected to carry out observations, give effective feedback and chair department meetings.

HoDs/HoFs need to be skilled communicators who are able to listen to and empower their staff. Some larger departments have a second in charge, an ideal position for a potential HoD/HoF.

Otherwise, taking on extra responsibilities such as arranging trips, or designing a series of lesson plans and resources for a particular topic can be useful.

More on how to become a head of department

Designated safeguarding lead

More often than not, the role of the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) is incorporated into another role, although some schools will employ someone to exclusively focus on safeguarding.

It is one of the most important (and challenging) roles in the school. The safeguarding lead is the first point of contact regarding disclosures, and will take action as required. 

The DSL needs to be compassionate, approachable, organised and dedicated to the role. Most schools have a safeguarding team, so that’s the best place to gain experience.

If you are hoping to join the senior leadership team, DSL experience could be an advantage, especially if you are considering headship at some stage.

Assistant head

Assistant heads usually have a specific remit and are responsible for maintaining standards within a particular area. They attend senior leadership meetings and contribute to the school’s strategic development. They will be summoned when Ofsted visit.

Assistant heads are likely to have experience as either a HoY or HoD or possibly special educational needs coordinator (Senco). They will be effective leaders, capable of big-picture thinking.

More on how to become an assistant head


The Senco role is a strategic one. They have a duty of care for each student on the special educational needs and disability (SEND) register.

They will act as an advocate for students and their parents or carers, and will need to collaborate with teachers, teaching assistants and outside agencies.

The Senco has to ensure that the school is meeting its statutory requirements. Sencos must obtain their National Award in SEN Coordination within three years of taking up the post.

The key qualities for Sencos are effective communication skills, knowledge of and an interest in additional learning needs, patience and diplomacy.

You can gain experience by working as a SEND teacher in either a mainstream or specialist provision school, doing as many courses focusing on SEND as possible or lead on interventions such as literacy boosting groups.

Some Sencos are already on the senior leadership team, some go on to join it and others may go into consultancy, or something with a broader remit within the local authority.

More on what it’s like to be a Senco


The headteacher is usually a strategic role, although some heads do still teach, depending on the size of their school.

They are responsible for setting and communicating the school’s values, ensuring the school fulfills its statutory obligations, controlling finances, liaising with school governors, and leading and attending meetings.

Successful headteachers need to have vision and be clear about what their school’s ethos is. They need to be able to lead effectively, through excellent interpersonal skills, a willingness to listen to others and the means to be decisive.

Headteachers must have qualified teacher status (QTS) and will need to have been a deputy head. You can study for the National Professional Qualification for Headship prior to being appointed head. Some heads go on to become Ofsted inspectors or education advisers.

More on how to become a headteacher

Chief executive officer

A chief executive is responsible for ensuring their trust meets the provisions outlined on its strategic plan; motivating staff at all levels within the trust, improving educational performance, and ensuring the trust complies with its statutory and regulatory duties.

This role suits individuals with not only a clear vision for their school but also a broader foresight of how their trust can collaborate with local communities.

It requires someone with highly effective leadership qualities, who can instill confidence in their staff and inspire them to support their vision.

Experience of a successful headship, or a significant role within a multi-academy trust, local authority or other educational setting would be essential.

A chief executive could progress their career by becoming a regional schools commissioner, an education leadership consultant or an executive director within a local authority’s education department.

What’s it like to be a director of education?

For more tips and information on how to take the next steps visit our Careers Advice hub

Tes Perfect Match

Gemma Corby

Gemma Corby is a freelance writer and former special educational needs and disability coordinator

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