February 2018


  • Relish the change
    Geoff Barton reflects on his personal journey at ASCL over the last few months and how 2017 has led to a shift in thinking around wider education policy and context. More
  • Real world, real learning
    Businesses can support schools and colleges in preparing students for life and even help develop resilience, says Confederation of British Industry (CBI) President, Paul Drechsler, but they need to understand the challenges that educators face if they are to help young people gain the skills and knowledge the country needs. Here, he talks to Julie Nightingale. More
  • Getting ahead
    Deputy Headteacher Allana Gay explains the philosophy behind Black, Asian and minority ethnic educators (BAMEed), the network helping ethnic minority staff aspire to leadership roles. More
  • Shaping careers
    Senior Research Manager Claudia Sumner says the government's new careers strategy is a step in the right direction, but research shows that a combination of measures are required for a successful, long-term solution to careers guidance. More
  • Next steps
    Two essential questions to answer in the quest for a headship or principal post are: Is it what I want and, Am I what they want? Aiming to join a Senior Leadership Team (SLT) as its leader requires you to consider these in order, says former ASCL President Allan Foulds. More
  • Plan for all seasons
    A curriculum represents the entire daily experience of each pupil, so designing it and evaluating its impact requires deep and detailed thinking. ASCL Curriculum and Assessment Specialist Suzanne O'Farrell sets out the key areas for consideration. More
Bookmark and Share

Two essential questions to answer in the quest for a headship or principal post are: Is it what I want and, Am I what they want? Aiming to join a Senior Leadership Team (SLT) as its leader requires you to consider these in order, says former ASCL President Allan Foulds.

Next steps

Pragmatism may prevail with the first of these questions. You may discover an ideal post that is simply not an option for you because you are not prepared to re-locate. Begin to shape your net by being ruthlessly clear about location. A number of other early questions may help, although of course you need to ensure that the net doesn’t shrink too small to catch anything.

If the answers to the following are not immediately obvious, spend a while actively perusing vacancies and finding out what people appear to be looking for.

What age range would work best for me? How about size of school? Achievement profile? Type of school or college? (For example, academy/maintained/free/church/special/within a MAT?) What about ethos and vision?

Be clear

It does help to be clear across a range of issues at an early stage, although an obvious trap is that your parameters become too inflexible for an opportunity to arise. It may be that you could explore an opportunity that fits most of your conditions and think hard about the one that doesn’t. There is a risk in being too sure about ethos and vision. Advertising details may be either side of the reality on the ground. To know how well a school or college is really performing may be as much about trends as absolutes. Judicious web searching of trusted sources can tell you a lot beyond the latest inspection report. While inspection reports tell a useful story, check how fresh a report is. A school or college can change considerably in a relatively short time. In either direction.

Focus on your values and beliefs

So, you’ve narrowed things down and set your search options. Before opportunities arise, why not focus on your values and beliefs and write a short statement of them in about 200 words? Even if this does not dovetail into your first application it will ensure that you are in a strong position to demonstrate consistency and passion from application through selection to appointment.

Tailor your application

The requirements of applying for a post do vary, but there is some inevitable commonality. First read the details, paying particular attention to the person specification. This may answer the second question for you (Am I what they want?). You may be out on a limb if you do not fulfil an ‘essential’ criterion. Look at the website and do a little more internet scouting. Only then think of writing your letter, and do this ahead of completing the application form. Writing your letter is a creative exercise whereas the challenge of the application form is accuracy. You can form your letter and make it unique and true to you. To do this well, make absolutely sure if you are applying for a series of posts that you write a letter for each that is bespoke to and pertinent to the school or college you wish to join. While cut and paste in the best hands can liberate a creative flow, for many of us, it runs the risk of a disjointed approach that lacks continuity and consistency. It takes considerable self-discipline to start each application afresh but it pays dividends.

Standout from the crowd

Standout letters will grab the reader’s attention within the first paragraph. There is a balance between sycophancy and indifference, but any future employer will warm to an approach that communicates immediate enthusiasm and the sense that their school or college is special, and potentially the right fit for you.

Remember your audience

If the job details ask you to respond in a specific way, it is best to assume that if you don’t, you will disqualify your application. While some maverick tendency is not unusual in great leaders, the application stage is certainly not the place to show it. Remember your audience. Governors may be highly experienced professionals, but as often as not, they are lay people in educational terms. A litter of unexplained acronyms will not endear you. It may sound obvious but spelling and grammar really do count. If it is a slight Achilles’ heel for you, use a trusted source to give your letter a forensic check. Helpful, too, if your source is a parent but not a teacher. How does your letter speak to a lay audience?

Request references

Although references may only be reviewed beyond shortlisting, you can help yourself by helping your referee. It is a professional courtesy to request their support before you identify them. Asking them whether they will act as a referee for you is a different question to asking whether they will support the sort of application you are planning to make. A short résumé of your achievements can be a real help to a referee at the point they receive a request.

Go on a pre-visit

If pre-visits are encouraged, do your best to take up this offer. It can help you slightly tailor your application, shows a genuine interest and may firm up an answer to the first question (Is it what I want?).

The selection process

Selection procedures vary considerably but will likely share similar ingredients. On the menu may be: a school or college tour, a data exercise, an in-tray exercise, a presentation to staff and a series of panel interviews covering areas such as curriculum, student care, leadership, and finance. This may then lead to another shortlisting and invitation to a final lengthier interview often preceded by a presentation. It is rare to be brilliant in all areas, however, expect others to wish to see you as well-informed and able to back your assertions. Perhaps the best test of your future effectiveness is your achievement to date. Own this. Be clear about its impact. Avoid the first-person plural when explaining your success. Others will want to know the specific impact of your leadership. This can give them confidence that this can be translated into the new job you want.

Towards the end of any selection process, expect to be asked if you are still a firm candidate and should you be offered the post later in the day would you accept it. Any diffidence at this stage will likely rule you out, so you really do need to have firmly made up your mind.

Learn from your experience

If you are unlucky, you should still leave the process having learned more about yourself. Part of this can be supported by confidential feedback that others are prepared to give. Only you can make the judgement as to how helpful or accurate this is.

Finally, the very best of luck. Perhaps you can make your own to an extent, but we all need things beyond our control to work in our favour.

Leadership appointment service

ASCL Professional Development offers a cost-effective Leadership Appointment Service (LAS), which includes analysis of school and role, professional applicant management, candidate assessment and a post-appointment follow-up service. Our expert consultants are either serving or former school leaders and deliver an unparalleled level of support, expertise and experience to governors when appointing to this important role. Email consultancy@ascl.org.uk for more details or look online at www.ascl.org.uk/las

Allan Foulds
Past ASCL President and former head of Cheltenham Bournside School and Sixth Form Centre.