Louise Preston, Teach First Programme Lead - School Leadership
Louise Preston
Programme Manager for School Leadership, Teach First

Introducing Headship First

Our newest pilot programme provides a strong start and sustainable future for new headteachers. Here, we outline the Headship First manifesto.

For many school leaders – but particularly headteachers – finding time to develop is hard. They’re so focused on supporting and ensuring the wellbeing of other people that their own progression gets pushed back.

Running a school doesn’t and shouldn’t rely on one individual, yet this is still a common feeling. It’s exactly why we’ve argued that new headteachers need support – now more than ever, given the impact of COVID-19. So, this September, we’re going to be piloting a package of support for new heads called Headship First.

This is very much a pilot. But we strongly believe that heads need and demand more bespoke support. And we want to try and share along the way what goes well and get your feedback on how we can make it better.

Why are we doing this?

We need headteachers. And we need them to succeed from the outset. This is especially true in the schools tackling the biggest challenges, those serving disadvantaged communities and trying to build a fair education for all.

But we also need more headteachers. Between 2012 and 2015, the retention rate declined, and estimates put us at risk of a serious shortage of heads over the next six years. And our surveys suggest that current teachers and leaders feel there’s not enough training or support to move into leadership.

National Professional Qualifications for Senior Leadership and Headship (NPQSL and NPQH) are important, which is why Teach First offer them to any teacher in a school serving a low-income community. But we often find those doing an NPQH are doing so ahead of securing their first headship, leaving little support available once appointed.

What about those who are in their first few years of the role? We know they’re lonely and hard. That’s not an environment where many can thrive or want to stay. Instead, new heads need to be clear on the expectations, supported to achieve them, and practical tools and advice.

How can we better support new heads?

We conducted a lot of desk research into the issue and then spoke to 30 current and former heads and other education experts. There was a clear consensus:

  • Access to experience: It can be lonely at the top. New headteachers need access to networks of experienced colleagues, as well as gaining direct and focused support from an expert mentor.
  • Technical knowledge: There are aspects of leading a school that you won’t experience until you reach headship – whole school funding challenges, a staff restructure, performance issues – new headteachers need the opportunity to work through these, with expert and focused help to build their knowledge and execute effectively.
  • Managing complex decisions: Schools are such complex organisations, with such a huge number of urgent and important decisions, that it can be hard to see the wood for the trees as a new headteacher. Where every decision is unfamiliar, it’s easy to develop ‘decision overload’. If we can support new heads to manage themselves through unfamiliar decisions, develop the required knowledge and take a step back to think their options through strategically, then we’ll see not only them thrive, but their staff, schools and ultimately pupils as well.

Our pilot: Headship First

After this research, late last year we invited a group of current and former heads to spend a week (not quite locked) in a room with some of our expert curriculum designers. We developed an initial model and have been refining it since, based on further feedback from our group of 30 heads and education experts.

One of Teach First’s thriving networks is ‘Heads Forward’: a peer group of more than 70 ambassador headteachers (teachers who initially trained to teach with us). We’ll work alongside that network to help us support and develop around 12 new heads - those either taking on their first role in September, or those still new in role.

It will be a test and learn process, and over the coming months we’ll share more about what’s working and what’s not. Throughout it all, we want your feedback – so get in touch with me via our main @teachfirst account.


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