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How to rise up the leadership ranks

PAT McDERMOTT answers your leadership questions

I am in contention to be deputy head at my current school and I have to give a presentation on the role. They don't want a PowerPoint or overhead projection but we are allowed to hand in a sheet of A4 paper. Should I go with a mind map or points?

People often say that it is a bit of a mixed blessing being interviewed for a post in their own school. Insider information can work both ways; you know a great deal about the school and the selection panel will know a good deal about you too! The best thing is to play it straight, approaching it as if it were an interview at another school. Obviously you cannot ignore what you have experienced at the school but don't take anything for granted regarding what the panel will know.

It is good that the panel does not want death by PowerPoint. Mind maps are fine for the creative mind but they may not appeal to the linearlogical mind. Do your research and find out who is likely to be on the panel. Work out how they think and prepare your presentation accordingly.

Before you write your side of A4, try out your answers to these questions for yourself. What do you want out of being a deputy? Do you regard it as a staging post on the way to becoming a head or will you have arrived at your final destination if you become deputy? What do the panel want; an aspiring head or a safe pair of hands?

The traditional roles for deputies have been compartmentalised into either the academic or the pastoral. Perhaps you have come up through the ranks via one of these ways. Some heads are happy for their deputies to look after one of these areas for them. Their main role is seen to be to maintain stability and order in the school. Is this what you want? What is your present relationship like with your head? Will this relationship remain the same or does it need to change - and if it does, to what? This relationship is key not just for you but also for the future development of the school. You should have an idea of what the head's style of leadership is and their expectations of their deputies. Can you live with these?

When you have answered these questions then you might want to consider entitling your paper "the role of the deputy head; maintenance or development?" What do you want and what does the school need? Is it the maintenance person who keeps things tight and functional so that the head can continue to blaze along the leadership trail of innovation and change? Or does the school want the deputy to take charge of some areas of innovation and change?

If you see this as an opportunity on the way to headship then I suggest that you want to put yourself up for a clear instructional leadership role.

Leadership opportunities become essential in preparation for headship. If the school sees the role as maintenance then put forward all the ways you will ensure that the school remains stable and functional in your hands.

Make sure that your role is clearly demarcated from that of the head's.

This will help to avoid confusion and frustration for all concerned. The person appointed to this role in your school will be the person who best fits what the panel are looking for and what that person really wants for themselves.

Map out what the school needs based on the information they have given you and on your own experience of the school and demonstrate how you possess the necessary experience and qualities to fulfill that role.

Patrick McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls'

school, in Bradford. This is his third headship, and he has been a head for 12 years and a teacher for 27. He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and mentored Catholic heads for 10 years. Do you have a leadership question? Email

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