May 2014


  • Raising our voices
    Dialogue with the profession has been sidelined by this government, says Brian Lightman, with damaging results. It needs to be restored, whichever party is in power, if the vision of a great education service that we all share is to be realised. More
  • The perfect addition
    As more schools struggle to fill headship vacancies, business managers are successfully stepping up to leadership. Dorothy Lepkowska reports. More
  • Be true to your SEF
    As Ofsted announces a shake-up of the inspection framework, Tony Thornley looks at how approaches to school self-evaluation have evolved and explores what a genuinely useful SEF should contain. More
  • Excellence as standard
    We may have reached the zenith of understanding about what makes a great school, says Roy Blatchford. If so, the next step is to make it the norm across the system. More
  • A little bird told me...
    Wary of social media? Think Twitter’s a time-wasting distraction? Avid tweeter Peter Monfort offers a guide to its professional uses that could change your mind. More
  • The true values of education
    record number of school and college leaders gathered in March for the 2014 ASCL Annual Conference, to debate, network and learn about the latest developments in education policy. We were delighted that more than 1,200 of you could join us at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole for what truly More
Bookmark and Share


As more schools struggle to fill headship vacancies, business managers are successfully stepping up to leadership. Dorothy Lepkowska reports.

Andrew Whitaker was the only one of the 16 applicants for the vacant head’s job not to be a qualified teacher. But he was appointed from an eventual shortlist of five candidates.

“I have reflected quite a lot on not being a qualified teacher and have been very fortunate that the school I was working in believed that if you are good enough, irrespective of background, then you should be given the chance,” says Andrew, Headteacher of Todmorden High School in Todmorden, West Yorkshire. “I also have a governing body that was prepared to take the risk.

“It’s been a very steep learning curve and I am on a constant journey of discovery. But I think if you have the skill set, know your strengths and limitations, and have a passion for education, then it’s definitely a career option to consider.”

While it is still rare for heads not to have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), at a time when schools are struggling to fill vacant senior leadership roles and jobs have to be re-advertised before the most suitable candidate is found, considering business managers as part of overall succession planning is becoming more common.

Andrew was the business manager at a school in Barnsley when he was approached by his head to see if he would consider a promotion to vice-principal under a staffing re-structure.

“I had previously worked in the university sector as a lecturer in business and finance so I had some experience of education,” he says. “The long-standing deputy head of the Barnsley school where I was business manager for six years retired and the head told me she was planning to put me forward for the new vice-principal’s post that was being created as part of the restructure. She felt I had the skills and passion for education that the role demanded.”

Life-changing experience

Upon taking up this post, he did the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) through the National College, which involved a placement at an academy trust in Leeds – an experience, he said, that changed his life.

“The Executive Principal, John Townsley, was an inspirational leader and the schools I worked at were outstanding, so I learned a great deal. I’ve now been in my current post for 15 months but he remains my mentor to this day, and we speak and meet regularly.”

Andrew’s advice for business managers considering promotion to headship is to be honest about one’s strengths and weaknesses, and not to be afraid to seek help when needed. Some of the particular areas of difficulty for non-teachers, for example, are the practice of teaching, classroom management and pupil data, he says.

“These are crucial areas where it helps to be a qualified teacher. Every leader and manager knows that they can blag their way through some challenges in the job, but sometimes you just have to hold up your hands and ask for help or admit you simply don’t know or understand how something works.

“I found I had to reach out to colleagues to help me understand aspects of classroom practice and data, because this was a whole new language in itself that I wasn’t familiar with. I have a deputy who deals with this but I also needed to understand it because it is a huge part of a school’s work.

“I had to make informed judgements about the quality of teaching but I had no skill or experience in this area. Remember that you can’t possibly know everything, but have the confidence in yourself to ask for help.”

Ensuring that you pick the right team of colleagues in the senior leadership team (SLT) with a wide range of skills and expertise to make sure it has balance is also crucial, he adds.

“I believe that a capable leader who has the right team around him or her will take the school forward, regardless of whether or not they are a teacher.”

Associate assistant headteacher status

Vanessa Smallwood, meanwhile, is considering a deputy headship after being appointed to the role of associate assistant head: school business manager, at Barlby High School in Selby, North Yorkshire, four years ago. During that time, she has also been acting deputy head of the school, covering for a nine-month maternity leave.

“I am one of two senior staff members who is not a qualified teacher, but creating associate assistant head status gave us the same weighting as our teaching colleagues who are on the senior leadership team. This reflects the level of involvement we have in the school, though this, of course, may differ from the way business managers work in other schools.”

Much of her role is typical of a business manager and involves responsibility for human resources (HR), managing finances, staffing, safeguarding pupils, premises management, and health and safety. But she also leads school assemblies, mentoring of students, is Head of House and goes on learning walks as part of the self-review process. She undertakes work scrutiny with her senior team colleagues, reviews marking and feedback and supports middle leaders with reviewing pupil progress and behaviour.

Vanessa is also involved in curriculum planning as it has a direct link to finance in terms of staffing.

Previously, she was a civil servant in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) where she managed a budget in the region of £43 million. She has also been a school governor, which gave her an insight into how schools operate.

“As a mature student I did a degree in linguistics at York St John University with a view to becoming an English teacher but I decided against completing the teaching training,” Vanessa says. “Doing a degree was challenging with a career and family. But then this job came up which required a degree and some background in education and it seemed that I fitted the bill. I have never looked back.”

New avenues

When she began her role, she admitted that she would need training and support in some areas. She underwent courses in premises and asbestos management, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) health a and safety, and a level 5 coaching qualification. She now has a Diploma of School Business Management and is considering doing an NPQH or a master’s degree.

“I feel that I’ve reached the point where I can realistically start looking for a substantive deputy headship post and I think that if you feel ready for that then you are almost ready to be a headteacher, too, as deputy headteachers cover for heads,” she says.

“It has never been an issue for anyone in my school that I’m not a qualified teacher. There are aspects of the job, such as understanding and analysing pupil data, which I have had to work hard to understand, and I’ve gone into lessons to understand how teachers deliver quality teaching and manage the class. But I feel that my colleagues respect me and value the job I’m doing.

“I’m not suggesting that everyone without a teaching qualification can be a head, but the same can also be said for every qualified teacher. Leadership is about trusting colleagues, leading by example and leading from the front, not about whether someone has Qualified Teacher Status.”

Val Andrew, ASCL’s Business Management Specialist, says schools need to look at new avenues of recruitment as the role of the headteacher evolves.

“The educational landscape has changed over the years, and schools now have more autonomy,” Val says. “Local authorities have not always been able to sustain delivery of services, leading to changes in the roles and responsibilities of the headteacher.

“Andrew and Vanessa are great examples of practitioners coming through different routes with existing qualifications but seeking professional development to enhance their skills.

“Professionals such as they are now being recognised by heads and governors for what they have to offer, and are often being acknowledged as the right person for the job.”

ASCL Annual Business Management Conference 2014 Collaborative Leadership

Thursday 5 June 2014 Hilton Birmingham Metropole NEC

This year’s conference promises to be bigger and better than ever before. It is a must for all business management professionals working in education and those aspiring to further leadership roles in schools and colleges. It will provide the very latest on a range of priority issues, via a series of keynote speakers, some practical workshops/breakout sessions and the opportunity for some open debate and networking with colleagues. In particular, this year, we are hosting a debate on ‘What is the role of business management within sustainable leadership now and in the future?’ at which, Andrew Whittaker – a former business manager and now the Headteacher of Todmorden High School will be on the panel. This is a perfect opportunity for delegates to share their views on this important topic.

Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education writer.