How to apply for your first headship – and get the job

From filling out applications to impressing at an interview, Stephen Tierney, a headteacher of 13 years’ experience shares his advice on getting the role that’s right for you. This is an extract from the Guardian

Make sure your vision matches the school

It’s interesting to reflect back on the only two experiences I have of being interviewed for a headship. The feedback from the first school was that they thought I was far too radical in my thinking and not in touch with reality. They may have been right. At St. Mary’s, however, they were looking for a leader who would help develop a new vision for the school and lead it into the 21st century.

This isn’t about good school/bad school or good applicant/bad applicant – it is about matching your vision and aspirations with those of the school and governors that you will be working for. If the two aren’t aligned it will be like being in a boat with everyone rowing in a different direction – meaning the governors and headteacher are in for a torrid time. Governing bodies aren’t always confident in articulating their own vision, but they do know an engaging and inspiring one when they hear it. If you can’t articulate your vision to a friend or relative – or to yourself in the mirror – you are not yet ready to lead a school.

You can’t ever be truly prepared – but you’ll learn

With the exception of vision, I think that you have to accept that there is no preparation for headship quite like actually being a headteacher. You need a good knowledge of how schools work; an awareness of the structures and systems that ensure good order and high standards of teaching & learning; the ability to work with and influence people and an abundance of resilience.

What I knew about premises and finance when I became a headteacher, you could write on the back of an envelope – and a not very big one at that. And yet, over the past 13 years, I have had overall responsibility for £30m of capital building programmes and £80m of recurrent funding. Another worry for applicants can be personnel issues that go beyond the difficult conversation into formal procedures. Outside of a few difficult meetings where I had been alongside the headteacher as a “professional development opportunity”, again my experience was limited. Remember to follow the policy, make sure you have a good HR provider and be calm and balanced in your approach. You will grow in confidence with experience in time.

Headship is a team game

I hope we have eventually given up on the myth of the heroic headteacher who gallops in to save the day single-handed. Headship is now more about the team than simply the individual. Make sure you meet the senior leadership team of the school you are applying for, and consider whether this is a group you can work with. I would tend to keep it social and just get a feel for the group and start to build the relationships. Most of all, be yourself; this is what you bring to genuine and authentic leadership, and it has already got you to deputy headship…

Stephen Tierney is executive headteacher at Christ the King Catholic Primary School & St Mary’s Catholic College. Previously he was headteacher of St. Mary’s Catholic College, Blackpool for the past 13 years. He blogs at Leading Learner and tweets as @LeadingLearner

See all Stephen’s tips at:  How to apply for your first headship – and get the job

What do you think of these tips and what advice would you offer to someone looking to get their first headship? Please share in the comments or on twitter… 

50% rise in school children in Wales playing sport regularly
Lord Nash warns school may still become an academy
Categories: Employment and Teaching.


  1. laralexus

    SchoolsImprove just wait 4the schools’ climate 2settle again. Its too Gove unhappy… dark cloud. When schs’ feel supported and challenged.

Let us know what you think...