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'Why does a deputy head have to aspire to be a headteacher?'

This long-standing deputy head has no desire to become a headteacher, but believes that their experience prevents them getting another deputy job in another school

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This long-standing deputy head has no desire to become a headteacher, but believes that their experience prevents them getting another deputy job in another school

As I complete yet another application form for a new deputy head role, I can already imagine the conversation that will happen between the hiring managers at the recruiting school.

“Essential criteria? Met. Desirable criteria? Met with ease,” one manager says.

“How old is this candidate?” the second manager asks.

“We’re not allowed to ask that.”

“Oh, but there is a secret formula we can use. The date of their GCSE exams, minus 16, equals their date of birth.”

So, my age is quickly revealed.

“Still, it would be prejudiced to fail to shortlist a candidate purely due to age,” says the first manager.

Next, they look at my current school.

“Oh dear,” says the first manager. “It appears they have worked in the same school for the last 20 years…”

“And they have no aspirations of headship?” asks the other manager, in shock.

The assumption now is that I must lack ambition; I must be stale. I must have festered like a piece of mouldy cheese and so couldn’t possibly add value to this fast-moving, pacey school.

Application form closed.

'Why wouldn't a deputy head want to be a headteacher?'

Sadly, it is my belief that many shortlisting panels adopt this philosophy when appointing for deputy headteacher posts. It would be interesting to find out how many deputies have been deputy in more than one school. I believe it would be a very low percentage.

There seems to be an assumption that effective deputies, especially within the primary sector, must aspire to headship. This is supplemented by a further belief that schools and, therefore, headteachers are somehow failing if they don’t coach their deputies into headships within a few years of appointment.

Why wouldn’t a deputy aspire to headship? Well, I can only speak from personal experience, and I can give five reasons:

  1. A few thousand pounds of additional salary for a bucketload of additional responsibility;
  2. A local authority that can appear supportive one moment, and then backtrack and desert you;
  3. A parent body full of dissent – all assuming that their child is faultless, and showing total disrespect for educators;
  4. An accountability system where data is the prime method of judgement, despite the fact that we work with human beings and not identical raw materials;
  5. The extended legal responsibilities that headteachers assume, where you can be one letter away from a legal court battle.

'Applying for new roles seems futile'

As an experienced deputy, having been through four Ofsteds (one "good" and three "outstanding"), I have a wealth of experience to offer. I have worked for several headteachers, all of whom have welcomed my experience and found their job easier as a result.

Yet, at the moment, applying for deputy headship roles in new schools seems futile. Something is preventing me from even being shortlisted. And I don’t think that it is lack of experience. I have taught in three schools, I am a KS2 writing moderator and I have worked as a lecturer for my local university. I have postgraduate qualifications and the quality of teaching has consistently been rated "good" or "outstanding". I have certainly not stood still.

All that is left for me to do is to pose some rhetorical questions: do headteachers feel threatened by someone so experienced? Do headteachers see their deputy as someone they need to mould? Are they unable to cope with professional challenge?

Not everyone aspires to headship. I haven’t stayed in-post because I’m an incompetent deputy who would be incapable of being a head. No, I have chosen not to pursue headship.

However, this seems to have now imprisoned me in my current school. Still… only another 20 years to go!

The writer is a deputy headteacher in the South of England

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