2021 Autumn Term 2


  • Clockwork Tomato
    Geoff Barton explores the less familiar areas of leadership in the hope we can appreciate that each and every leader leaves behind an education system better than the one they inherited. More
  • Here to Help
    Supporting you is at the heart of everything we do. Director of Member Support, Richard Tanton, says it's been an exceptionally busy year for his team, advising and representing leaders through extremely challenging times. Here he provides an overview. More
  • Considering Headship?
    Taking the step from senior leader to headteacher or principal can be daunting. Here, Headteacher and ASCL Consultant Gareth Burton shares top tips to help leaders considering their next move. More
  • Keeping Track
    As a multi-academy trust (MAT) leader, navigating assessment data across your schools is essential but it can be complicated and time consuming. Here, Sue Macgregor from Alps shares top tips on how trust leaders can better manage the process. More
  • Making a Difference
    Over the last three years, we've put our work on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at the heart of everything we do at ASCL. Here Rachael Warwick, Immediate Past President, highlights the work undertaken so far and shares our future plans. More
  • Levelling Up
    In their new roles, Nadhim Zahawi and Michael Gove have a chance to deliver true levelling up, but it will take more than one policy or initiative to unpick the inequalities behind poor outcomes for some children in education, says NFER's Dr Angela Donkin. More
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Taking the step from senior leader to headteacher or principal can be daunting. Here, Headteacher and ASCL Consultant Gareth Burton shares top tips to help leaders considering their next move.

Considering Headship

There is so much to consider when going for a headship role that sometimes the very thought of taking that step is enough to discourage even the strongest of applicants. Below, I hope to provide some useful stimuli to assist you in your decision-making, prior to and during the selection process. 

System leadership 

Taking the step from senior leader to headteacher or principal normally means becoming further removed from the direct ability to make a difference to pupil progress. While your visibility and presence in assemblies, social times and the classroom will still be crucial, your impact and influence in terms of whole-school improvement will be realised through your leadership of other school or college leaders rather than yourself, something I refer to as system leadership. This concept is even more profound if the position is CEO of a MAT, where you will lead a group of other headteachers. Are you comfortable with this and ready to become slightly more removed from the ‘front line’? 

Alignment with your personal values 

Are you clear on what constitutes your personal values and educational philosophy? These will be important for two reasons. First, while you are unlikely to find a school or college whose vision and values align precisely with your own, it is important they are not too wildly different. Second, as leader of an organisation, if you are clear about your own values, it makes the art of decision-making straightforward since you will be clear on what matters most to you in terms of taking a school or college forward. Again, this is very important if joining a MAT, where the vision and values may be more inflexible than a standalone academy or local authority school. 

Choosing the right challenge 

Not all headships offer the same kind of challenge, and it will be important to select one that offers you the type of challenge that best suits your preferred leadership style and approach to school leadership. 

The challenges range considerably from schools and colleges that are already performing at a high level and perhaps offer little mandate for change, compared to those that require rapid improvement and where changes are needed immediately. 

Undertake appropriate CPD 

If you haven’t already done so, it is important for you to discuss with your current employer the prospect of undertaking the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH), a course spanning between 9 and 18 months. 

If, on the successful completion of this course, you feel that an application for a headship is looming, one of ASCL’s bespoke one-day courses, such as ‘Aspiring to Headship’, will provide greater clarity regarding a typical selection process (email pd@ascl.org.uk for details). 

Speak with others 

Take the time to speak with a range of trusted friends and colleagues about your ambition to move into headship. Choose these people carefully and ensure that it is people whom you trust to maintain confidentiality, but also people who will be open and honest with you. 

Listen carefully to what they have to say and, if possible, speak with a couple of current headteachers/principals – perhaps one quite new to the role and one who is more long-serving. It is difficult to step back from a headship having made the jump upwards, so it pays to take the time to be sure it is what you want. 

Internal versus external 

An opportunity may arise within your current school/college, a setting in which you are already comfortable and where you feel you have a good grasp of what needs to be done to further develop the organisation. This is often a good rationale for making an internal application for a headship, but it is important to ask yourself the question beforehand about how you will feel and respond if you apply and are unsuccessful. 

Due diligence 

Assuming the post you are applying for is external, do everything possible in the weeks prior to source as much information as you can about the school/college and the post. 

Visiting the establishment and scouring the website are a must before applying for any post. In addition, consider the SLT structure in place – will you be supported by one, two or even three deputies? Will you have the support of a PA? What is the financial situation of the school/college? Will you be expected to teach as part of the role and is this what you want? 

Consider your own personal situation 

Consider how the prospective step-up may impact your personal life. How close is the school/ college to where you live? Being close has advantages logistically but can also be difficult in terms of your separation of home life and work; the opposite has implications, too. 

Do you have children and how will this additional level of responsibility affect, if at all, your ability to be present for them? 

Letter of application 

Always follow the guidance in the advert and submit what is being asked for. For a standard application form and supporting letter, ensure you have covered everything in the person specification, keeping to no more than three sides of A4 with your letter, using decent-sized margins and nothing smaller than 11 point type – the letter needs to appeal to the reader. 

When you think you have finished, take time to proofread and/or ask someone else to do this for you. Check the relative frequency of ‘I’ versus ‘we’; both have their place in the letter. Also, check you are using the correct terminology for the young people in the school/ college you are applying for: is it ‘pupils’ or ‘students’? 

Two-way process 

If selected for interview, use it as a two-way process. While you will be keen to put across a good impression and be offered a post, it is vital you do not accept anything that you feel will make you unhappy in the long term. The process is usually two days in length, and it is important for you to use all this time to get to know the people who you will be working with, especially the chair of governors (or equivalent), since this relationship will be as important as the relationship with your immediate team of senior leaders.  

 Preparing for Promotion 

ASCLProfessional Development offers an objective consultancy service enabling leaders to prepare themselves for promotion. Find out more at www.ascl.org.uk/preparingforpromotion 

Gareth Burton
Headteacher at a school in the West Midlands and ASCL PD Consultant