When is the right time to apply for a headship?
I often get asked for advice about this and although there isn’t ONE answer, there are a few things that I think help you know if it is the right time-
- Have you started to question how things are being ‘done’?
This doesn’t have to mean necessarily disagreeing with how things are currently being done in your current school but more of a reflection or a realisation that there may be other ways of working. When you start thinking about different ways of approaching a situation or a problem then it often means you are starting to think more strategically.
- Have you started thinking about how you would do things in your ‘own’ school?
In my experience as soon as I started thinking about leading my ‘own’ school it was the start of my journey towards headship. I think once you start thinking like this you are half way there!
- Have you started being less ‘fulfilled’ in your current role or less ‘challenged’?
If like me you thrive on a challenge or an issue to overcome/ solve then when you start feeling less challenged in your day to day role then it may indicate that it is time to take that next step. This is often a good time to talk to your current head and ask for an opportunity to lead on an area of school improvement and perhaps take on part of the head’s role to gain experience
- Have you done what you set out to do?
In many leadership roles in education there comes a point when you feel you have done what you set out to do. Not finished, as I don’t think we ever finish anything in education as there’s always something that can be improved, but you get to the point where you feel you have left a lasting legacy.
Many of my middle and SLT leaders over the years have struggled with finding right time to move on as there seems to be this sense of letting your current school down. My answer to this has always been to not only think about the legacy you leave but also to think about spreading good practice further. Rather than think of the negatives of leaving your current children, think of how many more children’s lives you could have a positive impact on. This is definitely the case in terms of your first headship- it’s an opportunity to use all the lessons you have learnt and to put them into practice and to change more children’s lives!
So, is it time?
If you answered yes to one of the above then it’s possibly time to start looking for your first headship! To be honest though, you are NEVER ready for your first headship and if you wait until you think you are, you will quite possibly wait forever! Whatever the training and development route you take, there is not a programme in the land which prepares you completely for headship and I would go as far as saying that the majority of the role you just have to learn on the job.
Let’s not forget as well that there are other roles within education and that not everyone even aspires to be a head. I have met many deputies and assistant heads who are very happy in that role and would not want to be a head if it was offered on a plate!
What I would say is that it is for me genuinely the best job in the world and even the horrors of COVID have not changed that view. We need more great leaders in education, so if you feel ready then my advice is – go for it!