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Headteachers: New headteacher - how do I help the transition?

Our school's new head starts work this month. How can the management team and governors ensure his transition is smooth?

Our school's new head starts work this month. How can the management team and governors ensure his transition is smooth?

Original magazine headline: What should I do?

These days, new headteachers are like gold dust. Many schools face huge difficulties in recruiting someone new.

This issue was highlighted in State of the Labour Market for Senior School Staff 2008, a report by Education Data Surveys. Furthermore, 60 per cent of headteachers will be eligible to draw their pension in the next decade, leaving a huge gap in experience.

This is all the more reason for everyone to be welcoming and supportive of your new arrival from the outset. He will have to contend with hundreds, if not thousands, of new names and faces, all while trying to take the reins of a complex school community.

Staff and pupils might be apprehensive about his arrival, and worried about how things might change. So, how can senior staff and governors help ensure a smooth transition? What can they do to make a new headteacher feel welcome?

At The Key, our members often look for practical tips on getting ready for an incoming headteacher. Everyone has a role to play and, as they settle in, a new headteacher will want to know everything and anything about the school, so you can't be too thorough.

Bernard Abrams was formerly academic director at a London college, and is now an independent education consultant, specialising in senior leadership recruitment. He explains: "It would be difficult to dispute that preparing for the arrival of a new headteacher is very important, but there is wide variation in practice. If managed badly, establishing essential relationships will be impeded."

He notes that some local authorities have produced headteacher induction guidance, which may be available online. Even if the precise details need modifying to suit local circumstances, referring to this guidance could save a lot of time and prevent most, if not all, of the common errors.

It's also a good idea for the current headteacher to spend some time putting his or her paperwork in order before moving on. No one wants to inherit mountains of outdated records. Some schools put together a handover pack with copies of vital documents, including the school improvement plan, Ofsted self-evaluation form, and statutory school policies. He will also want to see a plan of the staffing structure, a detailed staff list, and information on the performance management system. This will show who currently does what and how you all work together.

Ideally, over the summer term, he will have been able to pay a visit to meet staff and pupils, understand the budget and soak up the atmosphere. Governors might also arrange mentoring for first-time headteachers, and should flag up support available from the local authority.

Meeting and listening

Rob Cawley, headteacher of Deben High School in Suffolk, says: "I spent a week at the school in the term prior to taking up the headship, meeting with as many people as possible and listening. From that week I started to develop my vision for the future of the school. Because I took the time to listen to staff, when I discussed my plans the following term they recognised that what I proposed reflected their ideas and concerns."

Most importantly, you will need to communicate the ethos and unique character of your school. Face-to-face meetings will encourage this to happen naturally. You could also provide a year planner, marking out big events in the school calendar. Holding a welcome assembly allows children to feel part of the action, and can encourage a positive attitude to change.

For example, one church school in Middlesbrough held a special service to welcome its new headteacher into the community. The congregation included staff, pupils, parents and local residents. As part of the service, they promised to support the head in her new role.

Taking the time to make simple, practical preparations and to think creatively about the welcome you give your new headteacher is an investment in the future. Do the groundwork now, and your school will reap the benefits for years to come.

Catherine Allan is a specialist researcher in administration and management at The Key, an independent information service for school leaders: If you have a dilemma for our experts, email

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