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How do I become an assistant headteacher?

Ever thought about one day being part of the senior leadership team? Our guide has everything you need to start the journey

Teachers progressing to leadership roles

The role of assistant headteacher is a highly coveted one: the first rung on the senior leadership team ladder, the beginning of power and influence…you might even get your own space in the car park. 

In such a role, you are a person who can change things but also someone who keeps things ticking over. An assistant headteacher does exactly what the title says: assists the headteacher in the running of the school.

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What sorts of responsibilities might you have?

An assistant headteacher will be expected to lead one or more specific areas. In a typical large secondary, you could expect to find three assistant headteachers, each of whom would look after either pastoral, data, or teaching and learning.

The deputy headteachers would be above them, and would line manage the assistant headteachers, as well as overseeing human resources and the curriculum.

Of course, all school structures vary and, when applying for roles, you should look at each individual school structure to see where assistant headteachers fit in to the chain of command.

Most assistant headteachers will still have some time in the classroom, but your day-to-day business will be more whole-school focused.

Non-teaching responsibilities will include line management meetings, learning walks, being “on call”, and then flexible time for you to work on other whole-school strategies and development. 

There will be smaller aspects of your role that, as a classroom teacher or head of department, you may not have even been aware that the SLT was involved in.

The larger, whole-school events, such as parents’ evening, curriculum information meetings, and whole-school inset will all have smaller organisational roles that are split between the SLT staff. 

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What is an assistant headteacher's salary like?

Once you are promoted to assistant headteacher, you move from the main and upper scale and go on to the leadership scale. This begins at L1, £39,374 (outside London), and the top of the leadership scale is L43, £109,366.

However, this scale is used to pay headteachers and, therefore, it would be realistic to expect to be paid up to around L16 for an assistant headteacher position. The payment will vary according to the size of the school.

How do I become an assistant headteacher?

A typical trajectory to assistant headteacher might be: classroom teacher, to a teaching and learning responsibility within a department, to head of year, head of department or faculty, and then assistant headteacher.

For those who want to supplement their classroom experience with some formal training, a National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership (NPQSL) is designed to help aspiring deputy or assistant headteachers progress their career. 

However, there are many other routes in. If you have held a whole-school responsibility, such as special educational needs and disability coordinator, or have been responsible for the most able students, these are also stepping stones to an assistant headteacher position.

There are ways that you can develop outside the classroom to prepare for an assistant headteacher role. If you can take the opportunity to hold the post of teacher-governor, this can be highly beneficial as it will give you a different insight into a school, and see how one of the most important groups of stakeholders functions. 

An assistant headteacher is someone who is able to consider the whole-school impact of even the smallest change. If you want to become an assistant headteacher, then you need to start thinking like one. If you come out of your department and spend time mixing with people from different areas of the school, then you will have a better understanding of how the school is run. 

When is the right time to become an assistant headteacher?

The right time to move into the role depends on the individual’s experiences and personal situations. For many, the role of assistant headteacher is discounted as an option owing to the increase in responsibility and scrutiny, and the reduction in classroom teaching time. However, the appeal of being able to shape and lead on a whole-school level attracts many to the post.

James Malone, assistant headteacher of a primary school in Stockport, warns of the difficulties that can crop up when taking on an assistant headteacher role in a new school. “When beginning as an assistant headteacher, you really need to hit the ground running. You are expected to lead, set high standards and be a role model straightaway. This is a very different scenario to a newly appointed teacher, who often has a bit of time to find their feet.”

If you are still weighing these things up in your mind, don’t take this as a sign that you’re not ready. Instead, go and speak to current assistant headteachers – either at your school or elsewhere. From speaking to someone in the role already, you’ll be more likely to get a feel for whether the job is for you.

I’m hoping to apply for assistant headteacher posts next year, what should I do now?

Some schools provide “step up” opportunities for staff to job shadow or try out senior positions on a temporary basis. This can be an invaluable experience and will give a genuine insight into the expectations of the role.

It might also be an option to complete a continuing professional development course in leadership, designed for current middle leaders. The Outstanding Leaders Partnership offers a range of courses that may be suitable for you to undertake and then prepare you for a leadership position. Mark Roberts, Tes contributer, has blogged recently about this, here. The Chartered College of Teaching also provides training and mentoring, as does WomenEd, and if you are a member of either it would be worth contacting them and asking for advice.

There will be some aspects of the job that you won’t be able to prepare for. Sarah Barker, assistant headteacher of Orchard School in Bristol, advises: “You can’t prepare for the daily, operational parts of the role.

“It also takes a while to get used to the systems and procedures in any new context, from things like stationery orders, to data systems, and new approaches to teaching and learning.”

Where could it lead to?

Once you have become an assistant headteacher, you may be happy to remain at this level for the rest of your career. Instead of looking for further promotion, it may appeal to you to move to a new school in another assistant headteacher position in order to face a new challenge. 

For others, the position of assistant headteacher is a rung on the ladder for further promotion. If you stay within your school, the natural progression would be to deputy headteacher, or to a headship. Alternatively, you might move to another assistant headteacher position but in a larger school. It is also a possibility to move into a non-school based role, such as an Ofsted inspector, or into Children’s Services.

What kinds of things should I look out for in my job search?

The hunt for assistant headteacher posts can be a long one, so be prepared to take your time over the job search. It is worth keeping in mind that your hours will possibly be longer and, consequently, it is worth bearing in mind your search radius to avoid a long commute.

Ben Clemson, assistant headteacher of the Burgate School in Fordingbridge, advises that flexibility is important when hunting for leadership roles. “I’ve been assistant headteacher in two schools, and one of the ways that allowed me to secure those roles was being willing to move schools, and move geographically around the country.”

Assistant headteacher roles are typically advertised without specifying subjects, so when using the Tes job search, you will find more results if you leave your subject blank. If the job advertisement specifies a subject outside of your specialism, then there is no harm in contacting the school and expressing an interest anyway.

What kind of interview can I expect for an assistant head role?

The interview process for an assistant headteacher would typically take place over two days. On the first day, you would teach a lesson, or be observed observing a lesson, and then observed feeding back to another teacher. You would also be given a data task and an in-tray activity, and possibly another role-play-style task.

On the second day, you would be interviewed by the headteacher, other senior teachers and a school govenor. In this interview, you will be asked questions requiring you to elaborate on the details on your job application, as well as competency, style and safeguarding questions. Below are some examples of the type of questions you might be asked.

Assistant head interview questions

  • How will (teaching and learning, pastoral support, data etc) be different under your leadership?

  • Give an example of how you dealt with a member of staff who was underperforming, or causing problems in your team?
  • How will you ensure a good work-life balance for you and your team?

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