Recruiting a Headteacher is arguably the most important task a Governing Body will undertake.
Getting hold of – and keeping hold of – a high-quality Headteacher to lead teaching and learning helps create the right environment for pupils to achieve their best.
It is the single most significant decision Governors take that has a positive impact on school improvement.
It is a decision that most Governors will experience only a few times and maybe only once.
It is also a decision that has become more difficult in recent times.
Official statistics from the Education Workforce Council (EWC) show that the number of applicants for headship generally is reducing even though there is a steady increase in the number that have the necessary professional qualification, NPQH.
A recent survey by BBC Wales identified more than a hundred schools across Wales that do not have a substantive Headteacher.
After more than 15 years as a Governor in both Primary and Secondary sectors, I’ve concluded that there’s 3 key things for Governors to consider as they approach recruiting a Headteacher.
And Bonnie Tyler has two great chart hits that have meaning for the task. Holding out for a Hero and It’s a Heartache.
1. Get support and get it early
Fortunately, Governors can get support for this important decision.
Governors Wales, Local Authority advisors and regional consortia will have relevant knowledge.
Local Authority advisors will be present in the process that supports the decision.
A new context for recruitment, with more schools looking to recruit and a shrinking pool of active applicants, means that doing things as you’ve always done doesn’t mean you’ll succeed like you once did.
Attracting candidates will work better if there is a modern professional approach that involves using the web and social media to communicate the attractions and needs of the school. A basic text advert and a standard jobpack was the norm; that is not sufficient now.
Managing candidates by engaging with them throughout the process has become important where once little engagement would happen before interview day.
Eteach is a school recruitment specialist that can provide expert advice and active recruitment support, building on many years of experience in finding and placing education professionals.
Recruiting a Headteacher doesn’t come without cost, and the cost of not doing what one can to be successful in recruitment cannot be ignored.
2. Think hard
The first question that needs to be asked is ‘does the school need a Headteacher at all?’
More and more schools across Wales are entering into relationships where joint working and collaboration is becoming the new normal.
Some schools come together to recruit an Executive Headteacher.
When it is becoming more and more difficult to recruit Headteachers at all, it makes a lot of good sense to explore fully if there is an opportunity to get an established high-quality Headteacher to share their expertise across more than one school.
For good Headteachers who reach a high in their career in their forties, Executive Headship can be an exciting prospect. Making your school an exciting prospect is one way of maximising your chances of retaining or recruiting high-quality leadership.
Governors should consider if they’re doing all that they can to give themselves the best chance possible of attracting applicants with the skills, experience and attributes that fit the demands of the job.
This means being very clear right at the beginning about your school and the priorities you have.
It is easy to fall into the trap of looking for a ‘Superhero Head’, someone that’s inspirational to staff and pupils, a master builder of highly effective leadership teams, a civil engineer in managing the school estate, and a certified accountant in managing the budget.
Great Headteachers do exist but not all Headteachers are great, and the great ones weren’t born great.
What matters most in recruitment is that there is a fit between the strengths of the candidate and the needs of the school, and that there’s a plan for supporting the successful applicant to thrive in the post.
Headteachers work within a governance and leadership framework. If they don’t, they are mavericks. Mavericks can shine, but more often than not they rise and fall like a firework, brilliant but brief.
Consider the strengths and weaknesses of the governance and leadership framework that the new Headteacher inherits; what can they get from colleagues and needn’t necessarily possess themselves?
About half of all Headteacher posts are advertised in January with the intention to appoint in March and for the post holder to start in September. There’s something rather neat about this cycle and it reflects the need for most Headteachers to give a term’s notice.
But this also shows that about half of all Headteacher appointments happen at other times of the year. This might mean that the recruiting school could stand out from a smaller crowd by recruiting outside of the popular January-March session.
Periods of notice can be negotiated. Negotiations work best when they start early and are conducted honestly.