In this article
What does a headteacher do?
A headteacher is sometimes also known as a head or deputy headteacher, and they are the most senior person within a school. They are qualified professionals responsible for managing schools and ensuring they run smoothly.
Headteachers can work at specific levels within the education system, such as early years, primary, secondary and sixth form. They can also work at different types of schools, e.g. faith schools, academies, grammar schools, local authority maintained schools, boarding schools and special schools for pupils with special educational needs. Therefore, what a headteacher does will depend on the type of school they manage and the pupils’ needs.
A headteacher’s main aim is to ensure the teaching and pupil achievement is of high quality in their school. They have a significant responsibility in the day-to-day running of the school and creating the right environment and a positive experience for pupils and staff. Overall, they have an important role in influencing and shaping young lives.
Headteachers will carry out many tasks, including implementing new technologies, setting policy/values, strategic direction and development, recruiting new teachers, training/assessing/evaluating, supporting staff, disciplining, managing finances, budgeting, attending/chairing meetings, organising school events, listening to feedback and acting on it, liaising with key stakeholders, etc. The role also has an element of administrative work, such as keeping records and producing reports.
Headteachers typically work in an office environment but may get involved with classroom activities occasionally, and some may even teach pupils. They will work with many colleagues, such as deputy headteachers, teachers, teaching assistants and support staff. They may also need to liaise with external stakeholders, including school governors, boards of directors, parents/guardians, social workers, early years practitioners, social care professionals, local authorities, Ofsted, the police, emergency services and education welfare officers.
Headteachers mainly work for larger organisations, such as local education authorities and the UK Government. However, they can work for other smaller organisations, such as private schools, not-for-profit academy trusts, and faith schools. Most roles are permanent and full-time, but there are flexible working options and temporary/contract agency work.
A headteacher will have many different responsibilities, and some of their day-to-day duties may include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Keeping up to date with new technologies and innovations and implementing them.
- Setting and maintaining school policies, goals, rules and values and communicating these to various internal and external parties.
- Ensuring laws and rules are followed regarding equality, diversity and inclusion.
- Strategic direction and development of the school.
- Ensuring the school is a positive, enriching, healthy and safe environment and culture for teaching and learning.
- Recruiting new teachers or overseeing the process.
- Training, assessing and evaluating staff.
- Managing, motivating and supporting staff.
- Disciplining staff where necessary.
- Delegating responsibilities to others.
- Ensuring teachers and other staff have the necessary resources to carry out their roles effectively.
- Communicating to pupils and parents/guardians on the school’s progress.
- Getting involved with pupils with significant behavioural issues.
- Managing the school’s finances and budgeting.
- Attending and chairing meetings.
- Organising school events.
- Producing reports on the school’s performance and developments.
- Listening to feedback from staff and pupils and acting accordingly.
- Liaising with various key stakeholders, such as government, governors, boards of directors, staff, pupils, parents/guardians, the police and emergency services.
The exact responsibilities will depend on the type and level of the school they manage and their staff and pupils. Some headteachers may also teach, especially in smaller schools.
A headteacher can expect to work 35-37 hours a week, Monday-Friday. However, their hours will depend on their type of school and setting. The school day usually starts at 8.30am and finishes at 3.30-4.00pm, but most headteachers will be in early and stay later.
Headteachers may be required to work some evenings and the odd weekend to attend events or appointments, e.g. meetings.
Headteachers work in line with school holidays and are at work for 39 weeks. However, they may still need to work during the 13 weeks of school holidays.
Most headteacher jobs are permanent and full-time. It is possible for flexible working for some headteachers, e.g. part-time hours or a job share. There are even hybrid working opportunities with certain roles.
Local travel may be necessary for some headteachers, e.g. to attend meetings and appointments. There may also be a requirement to cover or deputise for headteachers in other areas.
Overnight stays may be a requirement, e.g. working in a boarding school. There may also be opportunities to travel overseas.
What to expect
There is no doubt that being a headteacher is hard work and challenging. However, it can be rewarding, as they are a significant part of helping to shape children’s futures and maximise their potential to succeed in life. They can go home at the end of the working day knowing their job makes a positive difference to individuals, families and society.
There are headteacher jobs available across the UK, particularly in towns and cities. The salary is also competitive, with most roles offering over £45,000 a year and some over £100,000 a year with more experience. However, the pay does reflect the level of responsibility headteachers have.
Boredom will never be a problem for headteachers, and no two days will be the same. They have overall responsibilities for running schools and will face various challenges. They will work with many colleagues and interact with pupils and meet other people from all walks of life. It can be an interesting and varied role.
Even though headteachers usually need to work during the 13 weeks of school holidays, this career still includes more holidays than other options. The school holidays do not include personal holidays either. Therefore, the extra time off can be an attractive prospect, especially for individuals with children.
Even though being a headteacher is rewarding, and there are many positives associated with the role, they may also face challenges, for example:
- Responsibility – headteachers have responsibility for the day-to-day running of their schools. They oversee schools’ culture, curriculum, teaching and organisational effectiveness. It is a senior leadership role requiring them to be motivational, inspiring and influential. There are high expectations on headteachers, which some may find too much.
- High workload – headteachers will manage schools to ensure high-quality teaching and learning. Therefore, they will have to juggle different demands, their workloads tend to be high, and the working days can often be long.
- Mental demands – being a headteacher can be mentally demanding. They have a lot of responsibility and must also ensure their school performs well, which can be stressful. They must manage the school’s finances and budgets and meet with governors and boards. They will also be subject to inspections by Ofsted, including a look at leadership. If a school is rated inadequate or requires improvement, it can reflect poorly on the headteacher and put individuals under mental pressure.
- Work-related violence – unfortunately, there is a risk of verbal and physical abuse when working in schools. There have been incidents of pupils and parents harming headteachers, and verbal abuse occurs frequently. Some parents/guardians can also be challenging to deal with if their child misbehaves or when issues at home need addressing.
- Vacancies – not many headteacher vacancies are advertised, so it can be hard to find jobs and get into the role. However, there are more deputy headteacher job adverts, which could help individuals get a foot in the door.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether the role is suitable. Working as a headteacher is challenging, mentally demanding and stressful, and there is a lot of responsibility. However, there are many positives, and helping children to be the best they can be is very fulfilling and will give headteachers a sense of purpose.
When considering whether to be a headteacher, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the necessary personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a headteacher
Some of the personal qualities a headteacher requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Knowledge of the English language.
- Knowledge of teaching.
- Knowledge of teaching.
- Knowledge of related legislation and standards.
- Knowledge of health and safety.
- Knowledge of safeguarding and child protection.
- Knowledge of equality, inclusion and diversity.
- Knowledge of confidentiality, data protection and the GDPR.
- Caring, compassionate and approachable.
- Courage, conviction, objectiveness, confidence, resilience and assertiveness.
- Patient, honest, open and selfless.
- With accountability and integrity.
- Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal.
- Excellent leadership skills.
- Business management skills.
- Interpersonal skills.
- Customer service skills.
- Time management and organisational skills.
- Being thorough and having attention to detail.
- Being flexible and open to change.
- The ability to use discipline in a balanced way.
- The ability to prioritise and delegate.
- The ability to work well with others and alone using own initiative.
- The ability to lead by example.
- The ability to design courses.
- The ability to work well under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to use IT equipment and software competently.
There are standards for headteachers in England, which is government guidance on GOV.UK. They provide insight into best practices and people’s expectations of headteachers.
Many individuals work as teachers or deputy headteachers before becoming headteachers. We have a career guide on becoming a teacher for those starting their career, which is here.
Most headteachers will have an undergraduate and/or postgraduate degree and Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).
Previously, headteachers had to hold the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH). However, individuals should still undertake this qualification to help them stand out. They could also undertake others, such as the National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership
Undertaking paid or voluntary work experience, especially in a school setting, can maximise an individual’s chances of success in becoming a headteacher.
- Start work in a school as a teacher, teaching assistant or learning support assistant and work their way up whilst studying.
- Work in different schools to gain an insight into the different ways of working.
- Work in a senior or leadership role in other sectors which involves finances and budgeting.
- Work or volunteer in other educational settings.
- Volunteer with charities supporting individuals with special needs if they want a career in a SEND school.
- Work or volunteer with faith groups if wanting a career in a faith school.
- Shadow an experienced headteacher or ask them to be a mentor to find out more about the role and see if it is the right career path.
Further information on how to get into teaching is on the Department of Education’s webpage.
To work as a teacher (and then a headteacher) in state schools in England, individuals must usually have QTS from the Teaching Regulation Agency. In Wales, they must register with the Education Workforce Council (EWC). Initial teacher training completed in Wales is recognised in England. However, individuals will still need to register with the appropriate agency in the country where teaching.
There is a cost to become registered and for renewal.
Many employers will ask headteachers to have QTS.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help headteachers enter the profession, enhance their employability and keep their knowledge and skills current.
We offer many approved courses for those looking at a career as a headteacher, for example (this list is not exhaustive):
- Management level 3.
- Employment law.
- Disciplinaries and grievance procedures training.
- Safeguarding children.
- Safer recruitment in education.
- Food safety and hygiene in schools.
- Mental health in schools.
- Internet safety in schools.
- Managing behaviour that challenges.
- Understanding bullying.
- Child sexual exploitation.
- Child neglect awareness.
- Prevent and radicalisation.
- COVID-19 in schools.
- Fires safety in schools.
- GDPR in education.
- Data protection in schools.
- Equality and diversity in education/for teachers.
- LGBTQ+ in schools.
- Customer service skills.
- Workplace stress awareness.
- Violence at work.
Professional bodies, unions and associations, such as the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the Key Leaders, NAHT, the Grammar School Heads Association (GSHA), the Chartered College of Teaching, and registration bodies for each UK country, e.g. the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE), can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide events and support to help individuals become headteachers and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development.
Continuing professional development (CPD) is mandatory for professional body registration renewal. Also, see CPD courses for teachers for further guidance on CPD, which can also help headteachers.
The type of training required will depend on what employers are looking for, the schools individuals want to work in and the CPD requirements for registration. As well as looking at professional body websites, it is also worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the courses required and other training needed for specialist roles. There is also further information on training at Get Into Teaching and the Ambition Institute.
Jobs are on Teaching Vacancies, Tes Jobs, Education Jobs and other job sites, such as GOV.UK Find a Job Service, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Indeed and local authority websites. Also, look at recruitment agencies, e.g. EduStaff, Academicis and Eteach.
Having more relevant training and competence will open up more opportunities for headteachers. Refresher training will also be required, as it is a legal requirement and mandatory for registration renewal. It also keeps knowledge and skills up to date.
Criminal records checks
Headteachers must undergo an enhanced criminal record check, as they will have contact with children. A criminal record, caution, warning, or conviction may put off prospective employers. However, employers should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance to the role.
The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:
- England and Wales – Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
- Northern Ireland – AccessNI.
- Scotland – Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.
Further information on the requirements to become a headteacher is on our knowledge base here.
Where do headteachers work?
Headteachers can work in many different settings, including (this list is not exhaustive):
- Nursery schools.
- Independent (private) schools.
- Local authority maintained (community) schools.
- Foundation schools.
- Voluntary schools.
- City technology colleges.
- Academies and free schools.
- Grammar schools.
- International schools.
- Special schools.
- Faith schools.
- Boarding schools.
- Pupil referral units.
- From home.
They can work for public bodies, private organisations and agencies, for example:
- The government.
- Local authorities.
- Governing bodies.
- Not-for-profit academy trusts.
- Foundation bodies.
How much do headteachers earn?
How much a headteacher will earn will depend on where they decide to work.
If they choose to work at a government or local authority funded school, their salary is subject to a pay scale system (NASUWT), for example:
- England (excluding London) – £50,122 to £123,057.
- London – £51,347 to £131,353.
- Wales – £51,000 to £125,211.
- Scotland – £58,818 to £109,209.
- Northern Ireland – £47,381 to £117,497.
What headteachers earn in independent schools, free schools and academies will vary, as employers can determine their own pay and benefits.
Examples of headteacher average salaries are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):
- £47,735 starter to £117,197 experienced a year (National Careers Service).
- £53,041 a year (Talent.com).
- £55,450 a year (Payscale).
- £79,427 a year in London (Glassdoor).
Headteachers can also receive other benefits, such as allowances, generous holidays, pension schemes and further support.
Further information on salaries and benefits is here.
Types of headteacher roles to specialise in
Not only are there opportunities for headteachers to work in various types and sizes of schools in rural and urban locations, but there are plenty of opportunities for them to specialise in different areas, for example (this list is not exhaustive):
- Different age groups/education levels – headteachers can work in early years, primary schools, secondary schools or sixth forms.
- Different pupils – headteachers can specialise in managing schools that teach certain groups of pupils, such as those with:
– Special Educational Needs (SEN).
– Disabilities, e.g. hearing and visually impaired.
– Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) difficulties.
- Different subjects – if a headteacher also teaches, they can specialise in specific subjects such as English, Maths, Science, etc.
All different headteacher roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. Some may need specific qualifications and additional training for specialised areas and groups. All headteachers must know how to manage their schools and use their leadership skills to get the best out of staff and pupils. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what a school is looking for in a headteacher and the type of role a headteacher wants.
If headteachers do not do their roles effectively and lack leadership, it can negatively impact the school’s culture and pupils’ learning and development. It can also mean lower Ofsted ratings, complaints from parents/guardians and unhappy staff and pupils. Therefore, whatever the type of role, headteachers must have the necessary competence (knowledge, skills and experience) to carry out their role professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency and not take on responsibilities if they do not have the necessary expertise and skills.
Education, curriculums, standards, technology, guidance and laws are changing regularly. Therefore, headteachers need to keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to remain legally compliant, keep up with the pace of education and ensure they carry out their roles effectively and safely. CPD gives headteachers the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes and understand their responsibilities. It also helps them maintain their registration and progress in their career.
Joining a professional body, union or association (as previously mentioned) can help prospective and current headteachers enhance their skills and overall career. These can offer different levels of membership, CPD, advice and support, access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is an opportunity for career progression within education. With more qualifications and experience, a headteacher can move into an executive headship role. They could move from a small school to a large one or a different type of school, e.g. SEN or faith. Alternatively, they may work for an agency or overseas at an international school.
Knowledge, skills and experience as a headteacher can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, a headteacher may want to work in private tutoring, online learning, the adult learning sector, or further education. They may want to become an examiner, trainer, education adviser or consultant. Finally, they may decide to undertake training to become an Ofsted inspector.
Get started on a course suitable for becoming a headteacher
Data Protection in Schools£20 + VAT View course
Safer Recruitment in Education£20 + VAT View course
Mental Health in Schools£20 + VAT View course
Managing behaviour that challenges£20 + VAT View course
LGBTQ+ in Schools£20 + VAT View course
Internet Safety in Schools£15 + VAT View course
GDPR in Education£20 + VAT View course
Safeguarding Children Level 2£20 + VAT View course