Do You Want To Be A Headteacher?

Reading time: 4
shutterstock a man wearing a suit sitting in a desk with a signboard in front of him with the word principal written in it


In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday...
Read more about @TeacherToolkit

What motivates someone to become a head teacher of a school? What puts people off headship?

This week, I had an unplanned conversation with former head teacher @KennyGFrederick, who is working on Teacher Rounds – a coaching model – with staff in our school as part of her PhD project. One conversation led to another, then Frederick – as all good head teachers do – asked a probing question:


…”So, what about you? What professional development are you doing? Do you want to be a head teacher?

I’d like to answer this question in two parts.

Firstly, what motivates or deters teachers from stepping up to headship? And secondly, where do I see my current career-path now that I am into my second year as a deputy head teacher?

shutterstock_344824184 Salesman standing in front of two doors, unable to make the right decision concept with question marks above his head

Image: Shutterstock

I’ll start off with a general response and have limited myself to 5 positives and 5 negative reasons to this question.

‘Yes’ to Headship:

These are some reasons, why a person would go on to become a head teacher:

  1. Freedom: you are the number one person. All decisions rest with you.
  2. Inspire: you have responsibility to empower and lead others.
  3. Influence: you have capacity to change the lives of 1,000s of students and staff.
  4. Pace: you determine the pace and life of the school. You are the heartbeat; the workflow and workload for everyone.
  5. Energy: you know that every day will be different; days full of inspiration and perspiration. It is the best job in the world.

‘No’ to Headship:

These are some reasons what would put some one off leading their own school:

  1. Highaccountability: in a landscape where standards are never good enough, you know the stakes are high for every child; for the people that work in the school, and your own job-security. It’s a big risk to take if you can handle the pressure.
  2. Ofsted: are not disappearing anywhere soon, and with countless horror-stories from the past, despite Ofsted doing their best to reform and become more peer-led, Ofsted still remain the number one reason for putting-off potential head teachers. Does anyone disagree?
  3. MATS: with the move towards academisation, autonomy has perceived freedoms beyond your locality. You may head up your own school, but with the rapid-growth of Multi-Academy Trusts, you may be in charge of a school, but you will have more than your governors to answer for. There may be an executive head teacher too, and then the board / trustees of the academy chain, so headship may not be what it appears to be in some schools.
  4. Funding: with evidence suggesting that local authorities have not been distributing funding fairly, a national formula for fair-funding appears to be a sensible approach. With costs of living increasing and recruitment becoming more of a challenge, head teachers are now required to be up-skilled in knowledge other than ‘just teaching’. You will need to be able to operate a business-model, predicting patterns of funding, staffing and government proposals to ensure everything written in this post, runs smoothly. No matter what you do, if funding is taking away from you, you will still need to be able to ‘balance-the-books’ and avoid increasing staff workload, redundancies and ensuring students are getting value for money. In today’s climate, that’s a tough ask for anyone isn’t it? Especially new head teachers …
  5. The time: with workload increasing and all of the above a by-product of league tables and educational reform, the hours and hours of time needed to keep the school running will never be enough. Plus, you are ‘always on call’ unless you can manage a system where responsibility is distributed. Either way, all decisions rest with you 24/7 and you will need to be brilliant at managing your own workload. This may be difficult for some new to the post with young families. Either way, you will need to ‘love’ the fact that all decisions are ‘on your watch’.

*These are of course my opinion.

Personal Pathway:

For me, I’m not in a rush to make any decision. One week it’s a ‘yes’, the next week it’s a definite ‘no’! I have lots to learn.

I have a young family and learning the ‘life of a deputy head teacher‘ has been a learning curve that I’m satisfied with. There is a good mixture of support and challenge, highs and lows, stress and memorable well-being periods that start to make the job manageable to a point where I think: “I’m doing okay at this …”

I also know there will become a day when I may become frustrated and/or bored and in need of a new challenge.

I’m also enjoying my family and my son who is just starting primary school. I want to help where I can at home with his education and upbringing, and know that working long hours will only become even longer if I ‘step up’ anytime soon.

I know headship – or any life in senior leadership – does not have to be 24/7. Our workload is our own choice and I am brave enough to make the step, I just know it’s not the time to do so. Teacher Toolkit also offers great distraction for me and offers a totally different world of opportunity. Part-time or full-time? Consultancy or headship? … are questions that have been asked of me. There are countless areas of experiences I have yet to do – volunteering for jobs I least like – and working on areas of personal development.

Regardless, I am most happy in school working with hundreds of students and staff.

shutterstock_185560733 Young Indian business woman joining two jigsaw puzzle pieces against white background

Image: Shutterstock


All in all, no matter if you have taken the step up to headship, or are considering this yourself, there is no doubt that this is a significant and very rewarding role in school. It’s something I don’t want to miss out on, but I also know it’s something that is currently a slow-burner …

Here is a little advice from someone who knows.

Headteacher @StephenDrew72 in his presentation at @SLTeachMeet in 2012, said the following:

  1. You have to really want to be a headteacher.
  2. Seek the comments of everyone.
  3. Ensure your experience is wide. Volunteer for the jobs you like least.
  4. Decide what your school will look like. Have a grand design.
  5. Have a vision ready to communicate.
  6. Tell your local authority
  7. Don’t apply for every job, especially within one authority.
  8. Research everything possible, even the back page of local newspapers.
  9. Have some plans ready to go. Be ‘shovel ready’.
  10. Believe in yourself. Be honest, be humble, be powerful. You have to make a difference.

You can watch the short video below.

Brilliant advice from Stephen Drew! I’m sure my perspective will change. Right now, I’m not ready or thinking about it (too much).

Watch this space …


@TeacherToolkit logo new book Vitruvian man TT



6 thoughts on “Do You Want To Be A Headteacher?

  1. Future Leaders discuss being personally and professionally ready, which I think is a great way to look at it. We work until we are 68 so there is no need to rush into headship. It’s all about being personally and professionally ready to apply.
    Looking back at Stephen’s advice, which I first heard when I was a newly appointed Deputy, it is excellent.

  2. Interesting to read this, and Jude’s comment too. I’d agree it’s about timing and match. As long as we also appreciate the ‘build the bridge as you walk on it’ principle that you can only continue your preparation for headship by actually being a head – and you may feel you’ve never absolutely cracked it!

    I’d also recommend listening to the stories of those who have made the leap, such as Chris Hildrew and Helena Marsh in these posts, each reflecting on their first term of headship:

    (Hoping you might write one in due course too, Jude!)

    And just one thought about your comment, Ross: “I also know there will become a day when I may become frustrated and/or bored and in need of a new challenge.” I enjoyed being a deputy and never felt bored or frustrated in the role, but I got to the point when I started to feel ready for the next step – part of it was realising how I felt when my head was out of school and people looked to me. I think it started in year three of my deputy headship, I got my headship in year four (my fourth headship interview) and started as a head after five years as a deputy. That worked for me.

    Good luck – to Jude too!

  3. It’s also about developing a system for people to go onto headship. Coming from Cumbria, Headteacher or deputy jobs are non existent and you see about two or three a year. This leads to people staying in schools for longer periods of time and provides less opportunities for career development.

    1. Yes, that’s a fair point. Definitely been blighted by the ‘London bubble’ in my career. On my travels I can understand why some people have stayed in their schools for 20-30 years if a) their happy b) too far to travel and c) fewer job opportunities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.