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Knowledge Base » Health and Safety » How to become a headteacher

How to become a headteacher

To become a headteacher you will generally need to have experience as a teacher. For teacher training you will need a minimum of five GCSEs, including English and Maths (plus science for primary teaching). You will then require A levels or equivalent, or an Access to Higher Education course, and then a degree. For secondary teaching your degree would need to be relevant to the subject you want to teach.

You can study for a degree and complete your initial teacher training (ITT) at the same time, gaining qualified teacher status (QTS), or you could study from a range of degrees and follow on with QTS training. Studying full time, either route would usually take four years. You could teach in independent schools, academies and free schools in England without QTS, but it is a definite advantage to have it.

You will also need to pass background checks done by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

Anyone who has been teaching for a while may be considering their career progression. Moving from the classroom to roles with increased leadership responsibilities can lead to the role with the highest responsibility: that of headteacher.

The role of a headteacher is a complex, challenging and rewarding one. Headteachers work in a wide variety of schools; the schools may be different in size, age of pupils, culture, facilities and type of catchment area. However, whatever the school’s size and environment, as a headteacher you will have ultimate responsibility for the safety and education of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children.

There are currently 10,320,811 full- and part-time pupils at school in the UK. You will also be accountable for a budget of possibly millions of pounds of public money; the average primary school budget in 2019/20 was £1,162,000 and the average secondary school budget in 2019/20 was £4,914,000.

Headteacher With Student

Schools in the United Kingdom

Statistics from the four UK nations’ governments show that there are currently 32,028 schools in the UK.

Of these:

  • 3,069 are nurseries or early learning centres.
  • 20,807 are primary schools.
  • 22 are middle schools.
  • 4,190 are secondary schools.
  • 2,345 are independent schools.
  • 1,536 are special schools.
  • 58 are non-maintained special schools.

Most of the UK’s schools are in England:

  • England 24,360.
  • Northern Ireland 1,136.
  • Scotland 5,052.
  • Wales 1,480.

Teachers with a senior leadership role, that is headteacher, deputy or assistant headteacher, form a small proportion of the overall teaching population in these schools;18.5% in primary schools and 10.8% in secondary schools. There are no figures available for the other school categories.

How do you become a headteacher?

For any teacher considering career progression towards headteacher, the leadership pathway is generally in the first stage, development to middle leader.

This includes:

  • Advisory teacher.
  • Leading practitioner.
  • Classroom teacher who has one of the following roles, for example:
    – Head of department.
    – Head of house.
    – Head of year.
    – Behaviour manager/specialist.
    – SEN co-ordinator.

Middle leaders have a pivotal role implementing the school development strategy and teachers’ everyday work.

As well as being recognised for being great teachers, their responsibilities can include but are not limited to:

  • Curriculum planning and scheduling.
  • Resource planning.
  • Understanding data to track pupils’ progress and identify pupils that need additional support.
  • Actively taking part in monitoring the teaching, supporting, guiding and advising teachers in their areas.
  • Interacting with teachers and students, out and about in the school corridors maintaining high visibility .
  • Performance management.
  • Being well organised and professional, leading by example.

The current qualification available for teachers progressing to middle leadership is the National Professional Qualification for Middle Leaders (NPQML), and although highly recommended, it is not mandatory.

There have, however, been recent changes made to the qualification; these changes have been developed to support the development of leaders working across primary and secondary schools. From September 2021 onwards the qualification at middle leadership level will now cover the following specialist areas:

  • NPQ for Leading Teaching.
  • NPQ for Leading Behaviour and Culture.
  • NPQ for Leading Teacher Development.

Anyone who has already started the NPQML can still complete it and it will continue to be considered a good quality and respected qualification. One of the reasons for the changes is that the previous NPQs were developed from a range of different frameworks.

The Department for Education (DfE) have now sought alignment between the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) Core Content Framework and Early Career Framework to ensure continuity through teacher training and CPD throughout a teaching career. The NPQ can take up to 12–18 months to complete.

Someone Studying To Become A Headteacher

School senior leadership

The next stage to becoming a headteacher is attaining the position of deputy or assistant headteacher. This is usually the second most senior position in a school, working alongside the headteacher in managing and leading the school, which is a great opportunity to develop your leadership skills and experience.

Generally, a deputy or assistant headteacher will be responsible for managing the success of one or more of the following areas:

  • Pastoral care – Including helping monitor pupil illness, maintaining general welfare for children and teachers, and forming good relationships with teachers, parents and children.
  • Data – General admin for the school, including attendance, grades, teacher records etc. There are also usually line management meetings including performance management.
  • Teaching and learning – Some deputy or assistant headteachers are still timetabled classroom time, and contribute to teaching students and/or overseeing other teachers’ performance and development.

Some of the main tasks that a deputy or assistant headteacher will take on throughout their time in the role include:

  • Establishing aims and objectives for teachers and support staff, for the terms ahead.
  • Formulating ideas on how to improve their school’s strategic processes.
  • Monitoring the school’s status in safety, inclusion and educational standing.

Other responsibilities are based upon school structure but often consist of working with the senior leadership team and organising events that involve the whole school. These events may include parents’ evenings, inset days and curriculum updates.

The authority level of the deputy or assistant headteacher can vary from school to school; in some cases they may be required to stand in for the headteacher if they are either absent or not available for whatever reason.

Whilst smaller schools may have only one deputy or assistant headteacher, some larger schools, particularly secondary schools, may have between one and five deputy or assistant headteachers, with responsibility for specific areas of the school.

The current qualification available for teachers progressing to Senior Leadership is the National Professional Qualification for Senior Leaders (NPQSL), and although highly recommended, it is not mandatory.

As with the NPQML qualification the NPQSL is being replaced in September 2021 by the new NPQ framework, although anyone who has already started the NPQSL can still complete it and it will continue to be considered a good quality and respected qualification.

The revised framework for senior leadership which is aligned to Master’s credits comprises 10 elements:

  • School Culture.
  • Teaching.
  • Curriculum and Assessment.
  • Behaviour.
  • Additional and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.
  • Professional Development.
  • Organisational Management.
  • Implementation.
  • Working in Partnership.
  • Governance and Accountability.

The new NPQ at senior level can take between 12 and 18 months to complete.

Becoming a headteacher

It takes several years of teaching and leadership experience together with the relevant qualifications to become a headteacher. On average the time between starting your teaching career and becoming a headteacher is about 10 years; most schools require that you have had at least 5 years’ experience in a senior leadership role prior to applying for a headteacher post.

Headteachers are leaders of their schools; their leadership is a significant factor in ensuring high-quality teaching and achievement in schools. They are responsible for managing the school and making sure that everything is running smoothly on a day-to-day basis. Usually headteachers do not teach lessons in classrooms, their role is using their years of teaching and management experience to motivate and manage their staff and students.

Headteachers have responsibility for the overall education and academic achievements of the school as well as the school’s finances and administration.

The main responsibilities of a headteacher include:

  • Developing and maintaining school policies, procedures and rules.
  • Overseeing, motivating, performance managing and discipling staff.
  • Ensuring that teachers have access to appropriate educational resources.
  • Continuous professional development of themselves and their staff.
  • Overseeing staff planning including the recruitment process within the school.
  • Creating, contributing to and maintaining a positive, organised and rewarding teaching and learning environment.
  • Listening to staff and students about issues in the school and reacting accordingly.
  • Working with governors to make sure that funding is distributed adequately.
  • Providing the school with an educational vision.
  • Organising school events.
  • Keeping up to date with new educational innovations and technologies.
  • Making sure that parents are informed about school news and their child’s development.
  • Reporting the school’s performance and developments to the local community and educational authorities such as Ofsted.
  • Resolving major behavioural issues with students.
  • Safeguarding, including working with outside agencies to ensure the safety of students.
  • Working with the police and other emergency services to ensure the safety of everyone on the school grounds.

Headteachers are required to uphold and demonstrate the Seven Principles of Public Life at all times. Known as the Nolan Principles, these form the basis of the ethical standards expected of public office holders:

  • Selflessness.
  • Integrity.
  • Objectivity.
  • Accountability.
  • Openness.
  • Honesty.
  • Leadership.

The new NPQ framework available from September 2021 includes the new National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) for school leaders who are, or are aspiring to be, a headteacher or head of school with responsibility for leading a school.

The role is primarily a strategic and operational leadership one and relies on working with and through colleagues (in particular, through the leadership team), therefore the NPQH programme content reflects this level of management.

For headteachers who are seeking to develop their careers further, perhaps to become an executive headteacher with responsibility for leading several schools, the new NPQ qualification framework includes the NPQ Executive Leadership level. Serving headteachers with a minimum of 3 years’ experience are eligible to apply for this programme.

Whilst the new NPQs remain voluntary, they are a nationally recognised suite of qualifications that teachers and school leaders are being encouraged to complete as part of their ongoing continuing professional development.

Group Of People Studying Towards A Headteacher Qualification

Additional Continual Professional Development (CPD) for school leadership

Headteachers’ Standards (2020) were introduced to replace the National Standards of Excellence for Headteachers (2015). They have been designed to shape headteachers’ own practice and professional development and to underpin the frameworks for training school leaders.

These standards build upon the teaching standards with four additional standards that focus on leadership. They are:

  • School culture (builds on teachers’ standard 1).
  • Teaching (builds on teachers’ standards 2 and 4).
  • Curriculum and assessment (builds on teachers’ standards 3 and 6).
  • Behaviour (builds on teachers’ standard 7).
  • Additional and special educational needs (builds on teachers’ standard 5).
  • Professional development (some match to teachers’ standard 4).
  • Organisational management.
  • School improvement.
  • Working in partnership.
  • Governance and accountability.

CPD has a key role to play in meeting and exceeding these standards by improving the teaching and learning and developing leadership skills.

Personal development and career progression activities can include:

  • Supplementing your qualifications with additional topics such as:
    – People management.
    Safer recruitment.
    – Coaching and mentoring.
    – Leadership.
    – Finance.
    – Strategic management.
    Safeguarding.
    – Negotiating and decision-making.
  • Mentoring from an experienced headteacher – Having a headteacher who is willing to give you advice and guidance can be invaluable.
  • Showing your versatility – Headteachers often have to step in where there is a gap such as when a teacher is off sick or acting as occasional first aider, so keeping these skills current can be important.
  • Taking on the role of designated safeguarding lead – This is a responsible role which will help develop leadership skills, and as safety is paramount to a headteacher’s role, a thorough understanding of safeguarding is important.
  • Proactively seek opportunities to “act-up” – This will develop skills and add to your experience.

Salary expectations for teachers and school leaders

According to the Government website the starting salary for teachers ranges between £25,714 and £32,157 depending on where you teach. The average salary for a primary school teacher is £36,900. The average salary for a secondary school teacher is £39,900.

For middle leaders such as leading practitioners, the pay scale is between £42,402 and £72,480 depending on where you teach.

Deputy or assistant headteachers and headteachers are on the leadership pay scale of between £47,735 to £125,098 depending on the leadership level and where you teach. There are no longer statutory pay spine points within this range.

Any teacher acting temporarily as a headteacher, deputy headteacher or assistant headteacher may either be appointed to an acting role on a fixed contract and paid accordingly or continue on the teaching contract and be paid an acting allowance to reflect the additional responsibilities.

Equality statistics

Some statistics collected from Department for Education; Welsh Government; Scottish Government; and Northern Ireland Department of Education (2019/2020) noted that:

  • 264,804 teachers work in primary schools.
  • 247,378 teachers work in secondary schools.
  • 76,442 teachers work in independent schools.
  • 27,883 teachers work in special schools.

And that:

  • 30.5% of these teachers are male.
  • 69.5% of these teachers are female (in primary schools this rises to 82.4% female teachers).

However, only 38% (1,400) of headteachers at state secondary schools in England are women, despite the majority of teachers at those schools being female. In state primary schools, both local authority maintained and academies, many more women (73%) are in senior leadership roles.

White British people make up 92.7% of headteachers, 89.7% of deputy or assistant headteachers and 84.9% of classroom teachers.

The average age of a serving headteacher in England is around 50. Secondary school headteachers are slightly older on average than primary school headteachers. However, around 100 headteachers in the UK are aged between 25 and 29 years. Headteachers tend to retire from the role around the age of 55 years, although many continue in the role well into their 60s.

In conclusion

Whilst working in education is demanding and sometimes work and school life can be tough, for example dealing with a challenging student or staff member, an Ofsted inspection, or school financial worries, the role of a headteacher is also a very satisfying and rewarding one.

There are also various career progression opportunities for experienced headteachers including:

  • Headteacher roles in different types and sizes of school.
  • Executive headteacher roles which involve leading formal groups of schools, for example in multi-academy trusts.
  • Ofsted inspector.
  • Education adviser.
  • Teacher training or school leadership lecturer in a college or university.

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About the author

Megan Huziej

Megan Huziej

Megan has worked with CPD since August 2020, she is in charge of content production, as well as planning and delegating tasks. Megan is currently studying for her Business Administration Level 3 qualification. Outside of work Megan loves to venture to different places and eateries as well as spending quality time with friends and family.



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