Designs on a deputy's duties

I had a staff development meeting recently with my headteacher who was quite complimentary about my wish to be a deputy head. Can you offer advice about what I should be doing to help myself move towards that goal? I am not in a hurry. I like my school and have a supportive head.

You are in a fortunate position with the satisfaction you seem to get from your current job and the supportive environment in which you work. You are also sensible to plan your next career step. School leadership is too much of a responsibility not to prepare for it as thoroughly as you can.

In preparing for it, you may find your appetite whetted or, conversely, your enthusiasm dampened. Some senior staff who take the national professional qualification for headship (NPQH) course and gain greater insight into the role decide that they do not want the responsibility.

It may be helpful to think of three approaches towards this move. First, some training outside of the school. There are one-off courses for would-be deputy heads (such as those run by the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers) that may be a good start. Your local authority may also run a programme of training.

Another area to consider is whether the access phase of NPQH is right for you. If recommended by your head,and you have access to senior leadership team meetings in your school, then you can apply for this. It is intended for those who wish to become a head soon after achieving deputy status (perhaps within two years).

A second way to prepare is to watch and learn from those around you currently carrying out the sort of role that you would like. You could look at a critical incident managed by a deputy or the head in your school and see if they will let you study the way they are dealing with it. This may involve some shadowing of them, then a discussion to evaluate what happened and what you have learned. This may also help their learning. There needs to be an agreed protocol for this that includes confidentiality and mutual respect.

A third way to prepare is to talk to your head about gaining some experience now of the areas that you will need to learn about and manage as a deputy and possibly as a head in the future. What these are will depend on your current responsibilities and the sort of deputy post for which you are aiming.

Budgets, legal issues and timetabling are areas in which those aspiring to senior leadership often seek training. That is fine but it is important not to lose sight of the four key areas of school leadership - values, learning, sharing leadership and fashioning the future.

It is valuable to start to develop your ideas on what you believe in and how it can be achieved. How can schools really engage pupils in learning? How will you, as a leader, work with and through others? What sort of school do you envisage helping to lead in the future? As a deputy it is likely that you will also need to be able to act as the head in herhis absence.

There appears to be a shortage of people wishing to become school leaders (TES, October 3). Make sure that you aim for the sort of school to which you can make a real contribution. And do not leave it too long.

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