Headteacher Recruitment Working Group: route to headship

This paper supports the Headteacher Recruitment Working Group's 'Report and next steps' publication.

Headteacher Recruitment Working Group: Routes to headship


1. The recruitment and retention of headteachers in Scotland was a key theme emerging from the Scottish Government's Education Governance Review[1], in particular given the planned introduction of a mandatory qualification for new headteachers from August 2020. 'Education Governance: Next Steps Empowering Our Teachers, Parents and Communities to Deliver Excellence and Equity for our Children[2]' made a number of commitments intended to ensure the role of headteacher is an attractive and fulfilling career, and to support teachers to become headteachers, including:

"We will develop a mechanism to identify aspiring headteachers early in their career and develop a programme of professional learning and work experiences to lead them to the Into Headship course – this will provide a fast-track leadership route for talented teachers providing a clear pathway to headship".

2. The Headteacher Recruitment Working Group was tasked with advising the Strategic Board for Teacher Education on how to take forward this commitment. This paper summarises the work undertaken by the group during 2018 and its recommendations. As there is a significant interaction with the work of the Independent Panel on Career Pathways on pathways into, within and beyond headship, the paper will be shared with both the Strategic Board for Teacher Education and the Independent Panel.

Review of accelerated leadership development in education and other public services

3. In order to inform the group's discussions, Professor Christine Forde of Glasgow University was commissioned to review recent work on accelerated leadership development in education (paper attached at Annex B). Professor Forde explored recent attempts to introduce accelerated routes into leadership within an education setting. As there were limited examples of accelerated leadership routes in education, and in order to bring a wider perspective, the review also considered examples from the NHS and the civil service.

4. The review identified two main rationales for the development of previous accelerated leadership development schemes:

  • attracting and retaining talented staff who might otherwise leave the profession; and
  • addressing shortages in the number of experienced applicants for leadership roles.

It found relatively few examples of the use of accelerated leadership development schemes across the public sector, with schemes tending to be short-lived. Professor Forde concluded that the evidence base at this stage does not point to an established and effective model which can be relied upon to increase recruitment into leadership positions.

5. In considering the literature on different approaches to accelerated development schemes, the review identified a number of common issues:

  • how to assess the developmental readiness of an individual to progress into leadership early in their career; assess leadership potential; and select candidates in a transparent and fair way;
  • the impact of an individual's current school and management context on their participation in the scheme and on others in their school;
  • how to create opportunities for participants to acquire leadership skills in advance of taking up a leadership post to help them 'think themselves into headship' and gain breadth of experience; and
  • how to set aside the more traditional expectation of a certain amount of 'time served' before it is appropriate to think about headship, whilst still ensuring individuals have acquired the maturity of judgement and wisdom needed to handle a complex leadership role.

Views of the Headteacher Recruitment Working Group

6. Professor Forde presented her findings at the April 2018 meeting of the Headteacher Recruitment Working Group, and the group had an initial discussion of the implications. In this initial discussion, the working group agreed that there has been significant progress in the support available for aspiring headteachers through the Scottish College for Educational Leadership, and the focus now should be reinforcing and building on this to increase confidence and overcome any remaining barriers that may be preventing teachers from aspiring and progressing to leadership positions.

7. The group felt that the establishment of the Independent Panel on Career Pathways was an important and relevant development which emphasises the need for creativity and breadth in considering teacher career progression. It was particularly struck by the significant delivery challenges outlined in Professor Forde's review of other public sector initiatives.

8. The group's early conclusion was that the creation of a new 'fast-track' scheme would not best meet the needs of the teaching profession in Scotland. The group felt such a scheme would not represent the best use of resource and time, given the supporting scaffolding now in place through the Scottish College for Educational Leadership and the forthcoming recommendations from the Independent Panel on Career Pathways. The group would instead prefer to see a coherent package of actions that would meet the shared aspirations reflected in the Next Steps 'fast-track' commitment – the early identification of talent, timely progression, opportunities to gain breadth of experience and clarity about career pathways.

9. A sub-group comprising ADES, SPDS, Education Scotland and Scottish Government was tasked with considering possible approaches. This group met in August 2018 and recommended the following key components of a package to encourage leadership progression.

Accelerated leadership development: a recommended approach

10. During the sub-group's discussions, the group identified three components of an accelerated leadership development route for Scotland's teachers, and associated actions for partners:

1) High quality and well-informed professional dialogue between teachers and managers

11. The group felt that Professional Review and Development (PRD) must be a central component of accelerated leadership development, and welcomed the General Teaching Council for Scotland's (GTCS) intention to update the PRD guidance during the coming year, along with the work underway to update the Professional Standards. There was much discussion of the responsibility of both individual and manager to prepare for these conversations, and that good PRD involves ongoing, informal dialogue rather than simply a one-off annual conversation.

12. There was particular emphasis in the discussion on the headteacher's responsibility for the professional learning of their team. The group felt that practice varied widely, meaning teachers were not consistently involved in high quality professional dialogue, and perhaps missed out on opportunities in or beyond their current roles.

13. The group agreed that PRD should be a safe space to talk about an individual's immediate and longer term career aspirations, if they wish to do so. In order for this to happen, managers need to be equipped with the tools and information to facilitate such a discussion – including understanding where to go for more information and opportunities to help individuals develop particular expertise/acquire particular experience. The group reflected on the need for PRD reviewers to be objective and self-aware with regard to the risk of unconscious bias.


a) 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.

b) 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.

c) 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 to the next level.

2) Breadth of experience

14. The sub-group discussed the unavoidable tension between the concept of accelerated leadership development and the need for individuals to have significant classroom and leadership experience under their belts before embarking on headship. Traditionally Scottish teachers spend a long time in a specific role, rather than moving regularly to roles with different dynamics and challenges in order to broaden their experience. The group felt that it was important to encourage greater breadth of experience, and that the system could do more to encourage and facilitate teachers and middle leaders to seek e.g. roles in schools serving a different community; schools with different leadership structures and styles; schools of differing sizes; and roles that would offer different pedagogical opportunities. The group hopes that options in terms of possible leadership experiences will increase as a result of the Independent Career Pathways Panel's work.

15. The group recognised that geographical constraints may affect teachers' ability to experience a wide variety of roles. Members did, however, cite a number of examples where local authorities had put in place schemes and mechanisms to enable teachers to broaden their experience (see Annex A). The group also expect that the Regional Improvement Collaboratives will help facilitate movement of teachers across local authority boundaries in future.

16. SCEL's Teacher Leadership programme has demonstrated that there is great potential and enthusiasm for teachers to develop leadership skills and experience in the classroom. This potential has been matched by a notable appetite across the teaching profession for professional learning in this area. Participants' experience of practitioner enquiry and peer to peer support will add value to their current role and also lay the groundwork for future progression, should teachers seek promoted posts.


d) Through their ongoing review of programmes and the Framework, SCEL-ES should look for opportunities to signpost possible pathways and share examples of ways to acquire leadership skills and experiences.

e) ADES should encourage local authorities to explore different approaches to broadening teachers' experience, such as the South Lanarkshire Acting Heads pool. The group is keen to identify some areas willing to pilot approaches to teacher secondments, building a pool of aspiring leaders to take up Acting Head roles, job swaps and job shadowing. Through evaluation, such pilots could help build understanding of what works in terms of developing leadership skills, overcoming barriers to progression and and increasing the diversity of school leaders.

f) As part of their review and update of the PRD guidance, the GTCS should include guidance on professional dialogue before/during/after 'acting' roles, to help individuals and their reviewers reflect on what was learned from the experience and what happens next.

3) Learning from experienced leaders

17. In addition to aspiring leaders building their own practical experience of leadership, the group also discussed the positive impact of hearing about others' personal experiences and understanding how leaders reached their decisions. The group also noted that aspiring leaders could benefit from discussing current challenges and future aspirations with someone outwith their line management chain. In common with the rest of the public sector, coaching approaches and mentoring roles are becoming more prevalent in education. Participants on the SCEL-ES Excellence in Headship programme found coaching to be an invaluable source of support and challenge. At least one education authority has introduced a voluntary local coaching scheme for deputes and headteachers (see Annex A).

18. The group noted that initial work to embed coaching approaches had typically focussed on those who are either already in, or very near to, headship roles. They felt that while this was justifiable, it was important to think more broadly about an individual's journey to headship. Teachers aspiring to leadership roles in the longer term could also benefit from high quality coaching and mentoring to support their leadership development. The group reflected on recent work undertaken by the GTCS to encourage the development of coaching and mentoring skills in relation to Professional Update.

19. The group considered other ways in which teachers could access experienced leaders. The forthcoming headteacher awareness campaign will feature a wide range of case studies where headteachers share their motivations for headship and reflections on the role. These case studies will be available online and some individuals will be taking part in the Scottish Learning Festival to meet aspiring headteachers. The group also discussed how to maximise the potential of the SCEL programme networks e.g. whether the SCEL Fellows and/or those taking part in the new system leadership programmes could in future play a more systemic role in supporting aspiring leaders.


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

h) Scottish Government should promote the role of headteacher using a wide range of case studies, and make this information available online and to partners.

i) SCEL-ES should consider potential future roles for SCEL Fellows/System Leadership/Evolving Systems Thinking participants in supporting their colleagues across a number of schools, to develop and enhance leadership capacity.

Headteacher Recruitment Working Group


Email: Shirley Anderson

Back to top