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Time to stop acting and start doing

Pat Denison answers your leadership questions

I am the acting head of a primary school. I have been deputy here for eight years. During the autumn term, my headteacher retired due toill-health, and the governors are now looking to appoint a new head. I have been asked to apply.

I hadn't realised that the regulations were now in force regarding National Professional Qualification for Headship. When I discussed the need for NPQH previously, the head hadn't seen the urgency as I have an MSc in primary management. I need to be accepted on to the programme before I can apply for the post. What can I do?

You need to apply immediately for NPQH. Get on to the National College for School Leadership website ( and ask for a fast-track application. Once it has been received and accepted you are entitled to apply for headship. In your case, governors who have invited you to apply will understand that your application for the post of head in your school will be made before the official acknowledgement and acceptance of the NPQH application; they should be perfectly comfortable with that, knowing that you will have started the programme before the appointment. A quick word with the chair or chair of personnel committee should suffice. The NPQH requirement is to raise the calibre of headship applicants, not to provide a stumbling block to good candidates.

However, I wonder whether you are feeling less than fully confident about your application. There is inevitably a degree of trepidation with which the current postholder submits an application for the job he or she has been doing. It can be a high-risk strategy to apply for the headship. If you are not successful you will face some tough decisions.

On the face of things, you may appear to be the natural choice, particularly if the partnership between you, as deputy, and the head has been seen to be successful. Governors, safe in the knowledge that the school is doing well, pleased with standards and quality of teaching and learning, may see your appointment as a ticket to continued success.

I am always nervous for the internal candidate should this be their supposition. It places an immediate constraint on the possibility of taking the school along a path of transformation. Governors usually make internal appointments with the clear intention of protecting the status quo.Is this what you would want to do?

You have been deputy for eight years. That seems a long time for someone keen to pursue headship. I wonder whether you were more than happy to work alongside the recently retired head, not really looking for a broader and more complex brief. Your non-application for NPQH was a decision you took for a reason. Are you sure that you want to be a headteacher? Or do you want to be the headteacher of this particular school?

Your role as head will be quite different. Headship is about high levels of accountability and it is about change. The pace of change in this current climate is dramatic - the appointment of a new secretary of state is a guarantee of that pace quickening even further. You will need a strong vision and the intuitive ability to see into the future - to interpret and make real the intentions articulated by the creative team in the Department for Education and Skills.

You need to understand the national agenda and translate it wisely and bravely in the best interest of learners. There is no mileage in ignoring or trying to resist it.

You should disabuse your governors of the notion that your appointment will guarantee the status quo; they need to have a clear understanding of the change agenda and be wholly confident that you are the person to lead the school through it. Best of luck. I wish you every success in your quest for promotion.

Patricia Denison is head of a village primary, near Woking, Surrey. She has been in education for 25 years, 14 in headship, and is a facilitator with the National College for School Leadership's new visions programme for heads. Do you have a leadership question? Email

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