Headteacher Blog

How to become a headteacher: 6 steps

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There’s no “traditional” route to headship: every school and every teacher is different. 

In the past decade, expectations and stereotypes have changed: more women and diverse teachers have risen to the top job, and the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) is no longer mandatory. 

In theory, any teacher now has a chance to become a head – but how do you distinguish yourself when there’s no clearly defined path to the top?

1. Supplement your qualifications

Although the NPQH is still the most popular route to headship, in-school experience is just as valuable to many recruiters. A really good head needs to get hands-on experience of as many elements of the role as possible before actually taking it on. Whether or not you take the NPQH, consider supplementing your CV with other training.

2. Shadow your current head

Of course, this depends on school politics, but if your current head is willing to show you the ropes and provide mentoring, you’ll gain invaluable experience. A recent survey found almost 40% of new headteachers said shadowing their former boss had been key to preparing for their new role.

3. Become an all-rounder

It’s hard to overstate how versatile a headteacher needs to be. Governors will be looking for a great all-rounder, not a great teacher. Teaching will no longer be your main priority, and managing big-picture strategy will often take a back seat to more mundane concerns. 

John Rutter, head of Inverness High School, says, “Absolutely everything will be your responsibility… be prepared to wash up pupil vomit, dress wounds, buy the office milk and drive the minibus.”

4. Learn to balance the school budget

With school budgets under growing pressure, headteachers need to be able to balance the books. This will come up at interview, and many candidates won’t be prepared for it, so make sure that you are.

You could shadow the school finance manager if you have one, or volunteer to manage a certain element of the school budget. Take responsibility and gain some experience you can mention at interview.

5. Behave like a headteacher

While getting experience and implementing school policies are essential parts of your route to headship, so is being able to take ownership of the outcomes, discuss them with confidence, and present yourself to governors, staff, parents and children as a strong leader.

If you’re a deputy head, you probably act like a deputy head, and recruiters will pick up on this. You need to develop the persona of a leader and project that quality through your application and at interview. Think about heads you know or have known. It’s okay to have a touch of arrogance.

6. Choose a school that’s right for you

Don’t throw away your hard work by choosing a school that doesn’t fit with your teaching ideology – you won’t last. Find governors who share and support your vision. Remember, you’re interviewing the school as well as the school interviewing you.

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