Headteacher Recruitment Working Group: report and next steps

Considerations of issues relating to the recruitment and retention of headteachers in Scottish schools and recommendations to address the issues.

Headteacher Recruitment Working Group: Report and Next Steps


1. The Working Group on Headteacher Recruitment was established in 2016 to take forward actions in response to the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)'s report on the recruitment of headteachers in Scotland. The Group, chaired jointly by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and Scottish Government, brought together partners from across the education sector. Its membership and remit are at Annex A.

2. This report summarises the Working Group's consideration of the issues relating to the recruitment and retention of headteachers highlighted in the ADES report, and reports progress on actions already taken forward by partners in light of the findings. Using four key themes, it sets out a series of recommendations for the next phase of work to be overseen by the Strategic Board for Teacher Education.


3. In September 2015 the Scottish Government commissioned ADES to report on the apparent reduction in the number of applicants for headteacher posts across Scotland and to outline possible solutions to remedy the situation. To inform their report, the ADES review group consulted a range of headteachers and depute heads, along with representatives from the teaching unions and professional associations, the Scottish Catholic Education Service (SCES) and the Scottish College for Educational Leadership (SCEL - now embedded within Education Scotland). Their report was published in March 2016[1].

4. The ADES research concluded that, while the scale and nature of the challenge varied across the country, headteacher recruitment was a serious concern at a national level. The report made a series of recommendations in respect of the need for:

  • a nationally-agreed action plan to improve headteacher recruitment;
  • greater coherence and clarity about pathways to leadership at local and national levels;
  • improved support for headteachers in post;
  • a review of headteachers' terms and conditions and the use of incentives locally;
  • activity to promote the opportunities and rewards of the role of headteacher to potential headteachers.

5. In response to the report, a working group was convened bringing together key partners from across the education sector – employer representative organisations, teaching unions and professional associations, the General Teaching Council for Scotland, the Scottish College for Educational Leadership, the Scottish Government and Education Scotland. The group was chaired jointly by COSLA and the Scottish Government and met between October 2016 and September 2018.

6. The Scottish Government's Education Governance Review ran in parallel with the first phase of the Working Group. In June 2017, the Scottish Government published 'Next Steps: Empowering our teachers, parents and communities to deliver excellence and equity for our children'[2], which set out plans for significant reform to school education, including the establishment of a Headteachers' Charter. The Working Group temporarily paused its plans for a national action plan given the interaction between headteacher recruitment and the changing nature of the headteacher role.

7. The second phase of the Working Group took place between February and September 2018. During this period the Group took stock of progress so far in the context of the planned education reforms and identified a number of further actions. These are set out in this report and grouped under four themes. Improving headteacher recruitment and retention is a priority for all partners and there is a shared commitment to taking forward this work under the governance of the Strategic Board for Teacher Education.

Headteacher recruitment: starting point in 2016

8. The ADES report drew from research undertaken by the review group, along with teacher census data from 2015. Its key findings were:

  • While the issue was reported most consistently in the denominational sector and in rural areas, local authorities consistently reported that headteacher recruitment was a significant challenge;
  • At a national level, 50% of the headteacher workforce was over the age of 50, although there was variation at local authority level. Headteachers were amongst the oldest members of staff in schools, pointing to a need for careful succession planning at local authority level;
  • 411 (FTE) teachers held the Standard for Headship but were not in headship posts;
  • The number of promoted posts had declined between 2010 and 2015, from 13,608 in 2010 to 12,016 in 2015. Over the period the reduction was most significant at primary in headteacher posts (from 1,914 to 1,741); and at secondary in principal teacher posts (from 6,617 to 5,511);
  • The percentage of teachers in promoted posts had also declined since 2010, particularly in the primary sector. In 2010, 27.3% all teachers were in promoted posts, compared to 24.8% in 2015. In primary, the proportion fell from 21.2% to 19.6%. This had reduced the opportunities for aspiring headteachers to gain experience in leadership posts.

9. The ADES report discussed qualitative data indicating that leadership skills development opportunities were variable across Scotland; and that the increasing complexity of the headteacher role over recent years was a contributing factor for many individuals deciding not to progress into headship.

10. The report also considered the role of terms and conditions at both national and local levels, reporting that the sometimes marginal pay differential between depute and headteacher roles in both the primary and secondary sectors had an impact on individuals' willingness to seek a promoted post. While local authorities do have the flexibility to vary salary levels to address specific local recruitment challenges, the ADES research highlighted that this practice was not being used.

Headteacher recruitment: position in 2018

11. The working group has monitored national statistics from the annual teacher census and other data sources. The latest available data shows there has been some progress over the period, although there remain significant concerns about sustainability of headteacher recruitment at current levels in the long term. The key points are:

  • The average age of headteachers is now 49, compared to 51 in 2010;
  • 412 (FTE) teachers hold the Standard for Headship but are not in headteacher roles;
  • The number of promoted posts has remained relatively steady after declining between 2010 and 2015. In 2017, the number of posts increased slightly from 11,854 in 2016 to 12,062, a similar level to that seen in 2015;
  • The percentage of teachers in promoted posts has remained relatively steady at around 24% for the last three years, after declining between 2010 and 2015;
  • The number of headteachers working in more than one school has increased since 2010, and the number of schools with shared headships has similarly increased. This is most significant in the primary sector, with 151 more primary schools in shared headship arrangements in 2017 compared to 2010;
  • Recruitment of aspiring headteachers to Into Headship has been steady, with an average of 146 participants per cohort. Since the programme began in 2015 a total of 261 individuals have completed Into Headship and gained the Standard for Headship. Information about cohort 3 participants will be available at the end of 2018.

12. In addition to this national data, the working group also discussed particular concerns emerging from members' own surveys and wider dialogue across the sector. Ongoing concerns include recruitment to headteacher roles in the denominational sector; the impact of reduced numbers of applicants to headteacher roles on the quality of short leets and in some cases appointments; the retention of headteachers in the workforce; the amount of management time accorded to promoted posts; and conflicting data about the levels of interest in headship amongst the profession.

13. While issues remain, it is worth noting that the context for the discussion around headteacher recruitment has changed significantly since the 2016 publication of the ADES Report. The Scottish Government's 2017 'Next Steps' publication alongside a gradually expanding offer of headteacher support has resulted in increased activity in respect of professional learning, the role of headteacher and efforts to highlight the positives of the role. This report therefore acts as a summation of progress as a result of existing workstreams, while identifying areas where additional action is recommended to improve the recruitment of school leaders.

Key Themes

14. The working group identified four themes that have been central to the progress made so far and must remain the focus of further cross-sectoral action.

Theme 1 - Career Pathways and Preparation for Headship

15. Since the publication of Teaching Scotland's Future in January 2011 considerable progress has been made in developing a coherent framework of national support for leaders at different stages in their careers. The establishment of SCEL (now embedded within Education Scotland), the development of the Framework for Educational Leadership[3] and the creation of the fully-funded Into Headship qualification as part of a Masters headship pathway[4] have brought welcome attention, clarity and investment in this area.

16. Into Headship is now accepted and recognised as the key step on the educational pathway to becoming a headteacher. The position of Into Headship is further underpinned by the Scottish Government's intention to introduce a legislative requirement for new headteachers to hold the Standard for Headship (acquired via the Into Headship programme) from 2020[5]. Towards Headship has also been introduced to support those who have already acquired the Standard for Headship through the Scottish Qualification for Headship or the Flexible Route to Headship and are now considering headship as their next career step.

17. Given the forthcoming legislative requirement for new headteachers to hold the Standard for Headship, it is more important than ever for local authorities to consider succession planning for headteacher posts. At a national level, recruitment to Into Headship has been relatively steady at an average of 146 participants per cohort, although the balance between primary and secondary participants is not representative of the proportion of schools in each sector. At a local authority level, there is more work to do to ensure that participation rates reflect the anticipated need in each sector – particularly primary.

18. The working group urges local authorities to give greater consideration to the implications of the mandatory headship qualification for their workforce and in particular to identify and support primary teachers with the potential to take the step to headship. To support this, the group recommends that the Scottish Government and Education Scotland produce a new annual data pack for each local authority. The data pack will bring together teacher census data and Into Headship data to help local authorities plan for their future recruitment needs in different sectors. Education Scotland should also share annually gathered data that shows the number of teachers who have successfully secured promotion following participation in the Into Headship programme.


1) Scottish Government and Education Scotland should provide annual data packs for local authorities to support local and regional succession planning for headteacher posts.

2) Local authorities should take steps to identify appropriate numbers of potential candidates for Into Headship and/or to assist sufficient numbers to take steps towards it.

19. While considerable progress has been made in setting out a clear and structured educational pathway to headship for aspiring headteachers, the working group believes more action is needed to ensure a sufficient pool of teachers ready to make the step to headship. The flattening of career structures across Scotland has led to a gradual reduction in the number of promoted posts (over 1,500 fewer promoted posts in 2017 than 2010). It is felt that this reduction is having an impact on the number of teachers with well-developed leadership skills and experience who feel confident in considering headship, and on the desirability of the headship role given the lack of interim steps.

20. The working group therefore welcomed the creation of an Independent Panel on Career Pathways in 2018. The group's interests are well represented on this panel which will consider pathways into, within and beyond headship as part of its broader discussion about career pathways in teaching. It is hoped that this work will bring long-term benefits in respect of headteacher recruitment and retention.


3) The Independent Panel on Career Pathways for Teachers should include in its remit pathways into, within and beyond headship.

21. In the context of a flattened career structure that does not necessarily support the easy identification of individuals with leadership experience and the potential to progress to headship, the working group explored whether a fast-track headship scheme could further support local authorities in ensuring a pipeline of future school leaders. The discussion was informed by a scoping paper from Professor Christine Forde of Glasgow University which explored fast-track leadership schemes across the public sector.

22. On balance, the working group concluded that a single fast-track leadership scheme would not best meet the needs of the teaching profession in Scotland. The educational pathway to headship is now much clearer following the creation of SCEL and the Framework for Educational Leadership, and the forthcoming recommendations from the Independent Panel on Career Pathways would further support teachers to develop their leadership skills and experience with a view to headship.

This issue is explored in more detail in the separate paper on supportive Route to Headship which will be published along with this report (https://www.gov.scot/isbn/9781787813366). The group’s recommendations to support the early identification of talent and timely progression of individuals into leadership roles are summarised below.


4) ADES should encourage local authorities to explore and evaluate different approaches to broadening teachers' experience, building on the examples identified in the Route to Headship paper.

5) In updating the PRD guidance to support individuals and reviewers, the GTCS should look for opportunities to emphasise the role of PRD in consistently encouraging and supporting good quality, constructive discussions about immediate and longer term career progression, drawing on the Professional Standards.

6) During the upcoming PRD revalidation process, the GTCS should consider with local authorities how their PRD plans support individuals and reviewers to have constructive career conversations, including how PRD reviewers are supported to prevent discrimination or unconscious bias.

7) At each level in the SCEL-ES Framework for Educational Leadership (teacher; middle; school; system) an individual should have access to advice and suggestions to support their progression, and examples of ways to acquire leadership skills and experiences.

8) As part of their expanded professional learning role, SCEL-ES should explore a national coaching and mentoring offer for teachers in relation to leadership development, including potential cost implications.

24. The 2016 ADES report highlighted that the recruitment of headteachers to denominational schools was an area of particular concern for local authorities. As a member of the working group, the Scottish Catholic Education Service (SCES) has echoed these concerns, emphasising the unique role of a Catholic school headteacher as the leader of the faith community and the need for all partners to play a role in developing clearer pathways to denominational school leadership.

25. SCES supports aspiring leaders of Catholic schools with a range of resources, collaboration opportunities, policy forums and national representation. Since the publication of the ADES report, SCES has also developed and launched the Good Shepherd Pathway. The pathway offers focussed professional and vocational learning for school leaders, directly relating to the distinctive role of leading a faith community. It is being developed further to support aspiring leaders at each stage of their professional development from Newly Qualified Teacher to school and system leader.

26. The working group recognises the importance of clear, supported and accessible pathways to denominational school headship roles. SCES and Education Scotland are working together to ensure that the Framework for Educational Leadership meets the needs of aspiring denominational headteachers and that existing resources support the development of denominational school leadership skills.


9) Education Scotland and the Scottish Catholic Education Service should work together to provide support enabling aspiring Catholic school leaders to develop leadership skills appropriate to the particular challenges of leading a denominational school.

Theme 2 - Support for existing headteachers

27. The group felt that the support available once in post had an important bearing both on the retention of headteachers, and on the attractiveness of the post to those considering headship. The role of headteacher was widely accepted to be a challenging and highly-pressured one, and members cited ongoing concerns about headteacher workloads and the impact on health and wellbeing.

28. In June 2018 the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS) shared with the working group the findings from their annual workload and stress survey[6]. The survey showed an upward trend in working hours across all those in promoted posts, with headteachers reporting an extra hour per week increase on the previous year. Participants cited the impact of staff cover requirements on their ability to concentrate on their core work, and called for a reduction in bureaucracy across the spectrum of the headship role, in order to free up more time to lead teaching and learning.

29. The survey drew on publicly-available resources from the Health and Safety Executive[7], designed to help employers assess the extent to which stress is a problem for their workforce. The group agreed that this survey could be used more widely to monitor stress levels in the education workforce, and to seek to address key stressors identified.

30. The working group recognised that the AHDS survey findings were consistent with similar survey results from previous years, and that, looking ahead to the next phase of work to establish the Headteachers' Charter, all partners must be mindful of workload implications and the need to reduce bureaucracy. Responses to the Scottish Government's consultation[8] on school empowerment had shown support for the principle of empowering schools, but highlighted the need to ensure headteachers are supported in terms of their leadership development and practical day-to-day support in school, such as access to sufficient business support management and administrative support.

31. The working group felt it important to raise the profile of headteachers' health and wellbeing more generally. They urged local authority employers to take action to support headteachers in managing the pressures of their role, reduce bureaucracy locally and enable schools to access administrative and business management support, as well as considering the sufficiency of promoted post structures.

32. Earlier recommendations relating to the review of PRD guidance and the Professional Standards are also relevant to this theme, as they provide an opportunity to emphasise good practice and the importance of good quality PRD for headteachers, as well as their own role in supporting staff. The group also acknowledged the value of the peer support networks that are developing through headteachers' participation in local and national development programmes.


10) Local authorities should work with their headteachers to test and evaluate improvements to local working practices in order to tackle bureaucracy, and share best practice. Local authorities should consider increased use of the Health and Safety Executive stress resources.

11) Education Scotland should look at how leadership development programmes can build resilience and introduce a new 'health and wellbeing' theme to Excellence in Headship.

33. SCEL was established in 2014 to support the leadership professional learning of all educators, in response to recommendations in Teaching Scotland's Future[9]. SCEL worked with the profession to establish the Framework for Educational Leadership and create a suite of leadership development programmes for school leaders at all stages – including the In Headship, Excellence in Headship and Fellowship programmes for headteachers at different stages of their career. There has been positive feedback from participants on the quality and impact of these programmes, and mechanisms are in place to continually review and improve the provision.

In June 2018 the Deputy First Minister announced that there would be significant further investment in the leadership support package for headteachers to support the introduction of the Headteachers' Charter[10]. Education Scotland will work with the profession to enhance the existing offer and introduce new opportunities and resources to support empowered school leaders. There will be a particular focus on enhancing the Excellence in Headship programme offer and reaching more headteachers. As part of this work, SCEL will explore the feasibility of introducing a national mentoring and coaching offer.

Theme 3 - Terms, Conditions and Incentives

34. While not necessarily the key determining factor as to whether an individual would apply to be a headteacher, the 2016 ADES report made clear that the level of pay (and in particular the lack of significant pay differential between depute and headteacher roles) had lessened the appeal of headship for some.

35. The working group retains the belief that reviewing headteacher pay should be a key element of an overarching strategy to increase the number of applicants for posts. This would be a matter for the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT) to determine. The working group welcomes the SNCT's intention to consider the impact of the Headteachers' Charter and the recommendations of the Career Pathways Panel in terms of remuneration for the role of headteacher.

36. The working group discussed whether shared headship posts were appropriately remunerated given the unique challenges involved in leading more than one school. The latest teacher census data (summarised at Annex B) indicates that shared headship is an increasingly common mode of working in some parts of Scotland. There is currently no common approach to remuneration of these posts and the working group urges the SNCT, which is the appropriate forum for such a discussion, to examine the issue in detail.

37. The original ADES report explored whether incentives were being used to increase applications to headship posts. It found that although local authorities had the flexibility to offer incentives including salary uplift, in practice this was very rarely used. The working group understands that there has been little change in the situation since and notes that this option remains available to local authorities.


12) The SNCT should consider the implications of education reforms, the recommendations of the Independent Panel on Career Pathways, and the growing use of shared headships.

Theme 4 - Promoting the Role of Headteacher

38. The final theme arising from the working group's discussions was how to better promote the role of headteacher in the hope of encouraging more teachers to aspire to, and take steps towards, headship. While undeniably challenging, the role of headteacher is also incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. The AHDS survey showed that headteachers themselves remain consistently likely to recommend headship to other teachers.

39. Recognising the need to promote the role of headteacher more proactively, the Scottish Government launched a headteacher recruitment campaign in September 2018[11]. The campaign features a wide range of Scottish headteachers and enables them to share their stories with teachers across Scotland. All partners in the working group have supported the development of the campaign to ensure that it represents the breadth of the headteacher role and seeks to encourage diversity in the profession.

40. Both in its wider discussions and in the specific discussion about a fast-track route to headship, the working group reflected on the role of headteachers themselves in identifying and nurturing potential leaders of the future. Evidence indicates that headteachers can have a powerful impact on individuals' confidence and motivation to work towards promotion. Headteachers are responsible for supporting the professional learning of the staff in their school, and this should include nurturing and encouraging future school leaders. The earlier recommendations relating to PRD are therefore also relevant to this theme.


13) All partners should continue to actively support the Scottish Government's campaign to raise awareness of and encourage recruitment to the headteacher role launched in September 2018.

Conclusion and Next Steps

41. Scotland is not alone in encountering issues in respect of headteacher recruitment. The apparent reduction in the attractiveness of the role of headteacher is a complex societal issue the solutions to which are, in some cases, beyond the control of the Working Group and the Scottish education system itself. However, this report and its recommendations represent a clear attempt by a range of key partners to take shared action to increase the attractiveness of the role and increase the number of teachers willing to undertake a headship role.

42. Having agreed these recommendations, the Working Group requested that the Strategic Board for Teacher Education (SBTE) maintains oversight and ensures their implementation. This was agreed at the SBTE meeting on 12 September.

Headteacher Recruitment Working Group
November 2018


Email: Shirley Anderson

Back to top