May 2013


  • Advantage, Anyone?
    The belief that streaming and setting promotes rigour and therefore raises standards is not borne out by the evidence and could be putting poorer students at even greater disadvantage, according to new ASCL research into social mobility. Dorothy Lepkowska reports. More
  • Leading lessons
    A school-based centre dedicated to leadership and training is developing innovative approaches to professional development for the school that runs it and for its neighbours, explains Chris Holmwood. More
  • Climate control
    Switching to part-time headship ahead of retirement can give a school extra time to recruit a new leader and help the transition to a new life, as Colin Mason is discovering. More
  • Making vital connections
    They began as informal self-help groups but business manager networks are morphing into a vital source of support for the profession. Liz Lightfoot reports. More
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Switching to part-time headship ahead of retirement can give a school extra time to recruit a new leader and help the transition to a new life, as Colin Mason is discovering.

Climate control

"What line of work are you in?” I have lost count of the number of conversations with new acquaintances where this question has been asked.

“I’m head of a secondary school near Manchester,” is my response.

Inevitably, when they have re-joined, my next few responses then go something like this:

“No, it is not like Waterloo Road!”

“Yes, it is different every day.”

“No, politicians do not make our jobs any easier.”


“Yes, we do need and deserve all of those long holidays.”

After a while, particularly if you look and feel as tired as I usually do on a Friday night (even before the Rioja), you are likely to hear, “You must be on a good pension; when are you planning to retire?”

I quickly step back into my school mode and respond with, “Historically, working to 60 or beyond has considerably reduced heads’ life expectancy and I intend to take that into account.”

To explain my own path to retirement requires a jump back to September 2011. Two new deputy headteachers joined the school; Building Schools for the Future (BSF) was into the fi nal phase of the £14m design and build programme; and the whole school community was celebrating our best-ever GCSE results. From a headteacher’s perspective, could things look any better?

Retirement had been on the agenda since I attended a pre-retirement and pensions course at ASCL headquarters. I went on the course so
that I could be sure that the advice I was giving to colleagues who were
considering or being encouraged to consider early retirement was accurate. On the journey back I began to reflect on the fact that what I had heard and read applied to me as well as my colleagues … and
the seeds of an idea were sown.

Succession plans

A critically important function for any head or principal is the identification, development and retention of talent. Our school had, over a period of time, established effective approaches to succession management and we had managed to get the right staff in the right place at the right time, more often than not.

However, at the first autumn term meetings at the local authority (LA) and diocese I saw an alarming number of acting heads representing schools that had been unable to appoint new headteachers. Colleagues who had mapped out their retirement plans were being asked to delay until their schools could try again to appoint a successor.

The challenges to governors of recruiting a new headteacher or principal are enormous and in the current climate (particularly in the voluntary aided sector), even the most successful and highly regarded
schools are struggling to appoint.

I had always planned to retire at 58. BSF would be finished; no more university or accommodation fees to pay; and generally the timing seemed right for all concerned – but was it?

I started to have conversations with senior colleagues, our School Improvement Partner (SIP), LA and diocesan officers and the chair of
governors. We looked at National College and LA documents on alternative models of leadership and considered our options.

A way forward emerged: From September 2012, I would reduce my role to 0.6 full-time equivalent (FTE), retaining full accountability but with the two deputies assuming responsibility for specifically designated areas. On the two days that I would not be in school, the senior deputy would run the school.

We amended Individual Salary Ranges (ISRs), reduced teaching commitments, created a temporary senior deputy headteacher post in
the structure and then identified the need for a number of associate
assistant headteacher roles to backfill at operational and strategic levels.

Before consultation, the model was scrutinised by appropriate officers and governors and the total package was then presented to the full governing body. The proposals focused on the benefits of:

  • retaining the services of an experienced headteacher for a set period
  • the potential for three full recruitment rounds, if necessary, to appoint a new headteacher
  • continuity of leadership
  • opportunities for other school staff

The governing body unanimously backed the plan and we started on a new, exciting journey.

Recruiting a new headteacher began in late September 2012 and an appointment was made in late November, to take up post in September 2013. Knowing that the school would not require an acting or interim headteacher was an enormous relief to all.

In February 2013, we conducted internal and external (with LA officers) reviews of the structure:

  • Was it doing what we had hoped?
  • What did we need to change, if anything?
  • Was the new structure working and was the school continuing to move forward?
  • What impact had the changes had on staff or students?

In school, we held an open forum for staff to discuss and share their
experiences and views on the new structure to date. Other than one or
two issues of “Who should I go to if …?” no negative issues were raised. A more detailed evaluation undertaken by an LA officer found no detrimental effect on the school community.

The new structure was widely published and discussed and the flexibility of the head not having fixed days in or out of school was managed with forward planning, access to my Outlook calendar and the accessibility of the two deputy heads. The headteacher designate is already totally engaged in improvement planning and school evaluation
with students, staff and governors.

At a school level, this innovative approach to succession planning certainly appears to be successful. As seamless a transition as possible was the desired outcome and the vision and courage shown by governors looks set to propel the school into the next exciting phase of its development.

And what impact has this transitional process had on me personally? I work three days a week (flexible) in school and one day a week as an education adviser with the Diocese of Salford. I also do consultancy and
headteacher appraisal work and have a little time to keep on top of my to-do list, which has suddenly appeared on the fridge at home.

Retaining friendships

The part-time model is quite gently easing me away from many aspects of the work that have sustained me over the years. I am being weaned off the professional and emotional scaffolding I’ve derived from inspirational students with that ‘can do’ attitude. I’m learning to reduce my reliance on the colleagues who, day in, day out, transform and enrich lives, while still retaining friendships. I’m being given time to painlessly and gradually loosen my connectedness to a whole school community.

It is an awful lot to walk away from if you have not had time to adjust and come to terms with your inevitable retirement from what is one of the most rewarding roles imaginable. It is also inconceivable that the reservoir of rich experience, passion and drive that sustains a headteacher/principal for 20-plus years would suddenly dry up.

My personal challenge for the future will be to manage the work commitments from September 2013, to recognise my ‘professional credibility’ shelf-life and to remember that phased retirement is a conscious attempt to achieve a better work-life balance.

I am quite content that from September 2013 I will be able to give a very different response when asked the question, “What line of work are you in?”

And I feel even more relaxed at the prospect of never again having to justify my long holidays!

  • Colin Mason is head of Cardinal Langley RC High School, Middleton, Greater Manchester

Financial considerations

The process described by Colin has been successfully implemented (albeit with differing detail) by a number of schools and colleges. It is,
however, important that any member contemplating such a move should take expert advice on their own personal pension situation and that governors seek their own advice on any decisions they take.

David Binnie, 
ASCL pensions specialist