How can teachers make the leap from deputy to headteacher?

Jill Berry

Following a 30 year career in education, during which she taught English and assumed different leadership roles across six schools, Jill finished as a full-time head in 2010. Since then Jill has completed a doctorate and written Making the Leap: Moving from Deputy to Head, which was published by Crown House Publishing in November 2016. She lives in the Midlands.

Website: Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Image credit: Jill Berry Image credit: Jill Berry

Recent research from the Future Leaders Trust, Teach First and Teaching Leaders warns of a serious shortfall in the number of heads and senior leaders required over the next decade, as pupil numbers rise and the present incumbents retire or move on. Many of those currently in headship attest to the rewards and satisfactions of the role, despite its accepted demands and pressures. But how can we encourage those not currently in whole-school leadership roles to take the plunge – to embrace risk and uncertainty and step up to the challenge? How can we encourage, motivate and inspire them to ask: ‘If not me, then who?’, and how can prepare them and then support them throughout their time in the role?

Following a thirty year career as a teacher and school leader at different levels, the final ten as a head, I left full-time headship in 2010. Since then I have completed a Professional Doctorate in Education, researching the transition from deputy headship to headship, and I have written a book on the subject, based on my research and my own experience.

In the following extract, I explain what might motivate a senior leader to take the step to headship, and some of the issues around preparation and support. I hope the extract is useful; I hope the book is useful. Above all, I hope that those who could be successful heads in the future will see the opportunities and the joy in the role, and not simply its pressures, and will be inspired to ‘make the leap’:

As your career progresses and you move from one leadership role to another, your sphere of influence gradually grows. You will be required to take on new challenges and will, in every new job, be called upon to do things you may never have faced before. You will have the chance to learn, to grow, to prove yourself. You will make mistakes and survive them. But I believe that the qualities that make you a good teacher are closely related to those which will serve you well in leadership. Every teacher is, in fact, a leader of learning within their own classroom. If you decide to move to middle leadership, to senior leadership, to headship ultimately, you will continue to refine these skills, but in my opinion good leaders are good leaders at whatever level.

What makes headship distinctive? It is undoubtedly a big job. You need a clear grasp of the big picture – what the school stands for and where it is going – because no school stands still. During the course of a working week you may experience a huge range of different tasks: a governors’ meeting debating future strategy; a finance meeting looking at budgetary priorities and constraints; leading an assembly; interviewing staff; meeting parents. You might be working within the community as a representative of the school you lead and a spokesperson for education. You will certainly spend considerable time with your senior leadership team, making the most of their complementary skills and ensuring that, in the words of Dylan Wiliam, they work ‘as a team’ rather than simply ‘in a team’. Heads do not have to be able to do everything themselves; in fact, it is unrealistic to expect them to be good at everything. However, they do need to ensure that all the bases are covered. They need to be self-aware and to recognise when they are drawing on the expertise of others. They need to know the questions to ask and to be able to understand the answers, to probe where necessary and to have a secure overview of all aspects of the running of the school. If things go wrong, they are, together with the governing body, responsible. But developing and making the most of the skills of all members of the school community is a crucial part of the way in which successful heads operate. They lift and inspire, they encourage and motivate. They lead.

There are a number of ways in which those who aspire to headship can prepare themselves to take on this ultimate responsibility for school leadership, and these ways will be explored in subsequent chapters. They need to develop a clear conception of what the best school leadership looks like, where their own strengths are and in which areas they are still learning and strengthening their capabilities. They will have been formulating their vision of the kind of head they might one day hope to be throughout their careers, even through their own schooldays. They will have learnt both from positive examples and also from negative role models, who may have taught them about the pitfalls they hope to avoid. However, there is much about headship for which it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to prepare yourself. All heads will face unexpected challenges which will test them in ways they have not been able to anticipate. When they face such challenges they will need to be adaptable, quick-thinking and keen to learn. They will need to understand where they can go for support and counsel, but they will also need the courage to make what may be difficult decisions and to show real leadership in the times when they, and perhaps the school, are tested.

Robert Quinn (2004: 153) talks of how as a leader you need the ‘adaptive confidence to walk naked into the land of uncertainty and to build the bridge as you walk on it’. No beginning head is the finished article. It could be argued that this is a stage which no head ever reaches, as we are constantly learning and evolving. Certainly, more than five years since I finished my own headship I feel I am still learning about school leadership – from my reading and research, from my reflections after a thirty-year career, from contact with others in my consultancy work and also from my engagement with educational professionals through social networking. Aspiring heads need to have sufficient self-belief to recognise that much of being a head they will learn from the experience of being a head.

In the following chapters I focus specifically on the process of transition, and what it means to relinquish the professional persona of a senior leader and to take on the professional identity of the head teacher. It is a journey which is well worth taking.”

Extract taken from:
Making the Leap: Moving from deputy to head By Dr Jill Berry
© Jill Berry 2016 ISBN 9781785831614

Visit for more information.

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"