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to senior
leadership via CPD
ILARY’S STEP is one of the most
challenging aspects of climbing
Mount Everest, but it is not the
final section of the ascent, though
near the top it is. I was reminded
of this when one of my colleagues
recently emailed me for advice on
achieving his first senior leadership post.
A recent interview in Nottingham that he had
attended had had 50 applicants for one assistant head
position and the first day of the interview process
consisted of six different components or tests.
I explained to him that one of my former principals
had often advised that it can be harder to get one’s first
senior leadership post than it can be to get a headship.
My friend still wanted practical advice on how he could
successfully make his ascent to senior management.
If you are reading this then I am assuming that
you already are currently in a middle leadership post.
There are people who make the jump straight to senior
leadership and omit the middle leadership rung of the
ladder, but they are often exceptional individuals. If you
feel you have what it takes to make that jump then why
not have a go?
However, for those mere mortals among us;
currently leading a department, year group, key stage
or house, you have to remember that the key difference
between any of those positions and senior leadership is
cultivating a whole-school perspective, not just seeing
things from your area of the school. Everything else in
this article is centred on that one theme.
There is no expectation that you must have additional
qualifications beyond your degree and/or teaching
certificate, though on some job descriptions this Routes to
additional study is in the desirable column.
There was a stage in recent years where you
almost had to have completed the National Professional
Qualification for Headship (NPQH) before becoming
an assistant head or deputy, but thankfully with the
re-engineering of the NPQH as something you should
only study for when you are 12 months way from
headship, this should no longer be the case. leadership
Some people study Master’s level courses and this
can aid their progress. However, the key is that you
need to show whole-school interest: the Master’s in
linguistics may be fascinating, but it does not show that
you have the skills to become a senior leader. writing in a font size below 12. So if you have not got development. If ICT appears to be a weakness then use a senior leadership post is demanding but then the job
Where Master’s level courses are useful is in the enough room play around with the margins of the page. an example of where you have developed technology is too. The worst senior leaders are those who have
projects you may choose to complete, as they may give One advisor told me never to use bullet points and in your current role. difficulty in showing a broad view of the school.
you an opportunity to ask your headteacher if you can that is something I stick to. The classic error is just Play safe but not too safe. If you are asked to do a Most heads are very aware of this and are using their
pursue a whole-school leadership piece of work. writing about your current role. However, the selection presentation, do not have every phrase on a PowerPoint selection procedures to find a well rounded individual,
group is looking to see how your current role has and be wary of being too radical unless that is key to who cares about pupils, is a safe pair of hands, and
prepared you for senior leadership. your personality. For a non-specialist school, I tweaked can come up with new ideas. I wish you luck on your
There are no set rules about how long you need to be So try to turn around your experiences so they are the title of my presentation towards gaining specialist climb: it is definitely worth it! SecEd
a middle leader before applying for senior leadership senior leadership experiences; give them a strategic status.
posts, but probably the most important thing is to have angle or say why they are important in whole-school Each of these sections could of course be a separate • Paul Ainsworth is the deputy head at Belvoir High
had some experience of running a project that extends development. chapter of their own. There is no doubt that obtaining School in Leicestershire.
beyond your team. If in your department you have pioneered a new

It is easy to think that there are no Positive about feedback
opportunities in your current school, but
Dot Struthers
• Be succinct – do not waffle and wander around
the issue, get straight to it within the first
headteachers often welcome initiatives that
shares her
• Be specific – it always helps to give examples
come from their staff
because it helps them to understand what you are
It is easy to think that there are no opportunities in
your current school, but headteachers often welcome
initiatives that come from their staff. The offer of

thoughts on
• Be generous – if you genuinely recognise a
tracking system, talk about this but do not specifically person’s strengths, acknowledge them in
say it was only in your department.
how to give
Instead talk about what the benefits would be to the In your preparation ask yourself these questions:
evaluating a current procedure, re-invigorating an old whole school and think about the skills that you have and receive feedback what will really help this person? What am I really
activity, or starting something new is often likely to get needed to implement such a project. trying to say? And what language, approach, and
the green light. If you work on a project on which you If you are not getting interviews, ask people for
without offending
words will work best with this person?
have already had successful experience as a middle advice. You might have a colleague who has recently
leader that will give you a head start. These are the type become a senior leader, why not ask them to read your THE REASON so many people fear or wince at
Receiving feedback
of the tasks which are often undertaken within Master’s letter. the thought of feedback is that we associate it with If someone tells you that you are aggressive it does
qualifications. I was lucky enough that a former principal helped criticism and people pointing out our weaknesses. not mean that you are, it just means that they think
For example, one colleague offered to lead the me. I was also cheeky enough to ask for advice Feedback should be like holding up a mirror to you are. Their feedback is their opinion, not fact.
implementation of Assessment for Learning at his from a recruitment consultant who was managing an someone so that they can see what is going on and Regard it as a gift, you can treasure it, bin it, or
school; another colleague, a head of faculty, took the advertisement for a job I applied for. She gave me some what they need to do next. recycle it. Take the attitude of “if what they are saying
role of head of a key stage as a temporary position prior excellent advice, something I am still grateful for. If you do not give people feedback you are to me is true then what would you do differently”. It
to the implementation of a house system; and I myself holding them back and preventing them from being may be nothing, but it may give you some clues about
wrote a specialist schools bid. All these tasks give you
The interview
everything they are capable of. And you are also the person giving the feedback and how to build a
an opportunity of leading outside your department. It is a hackneyed phrase, but the key is to be yourself. holding yourself back. better relationship with them.
You might present a more toned down representation Feedback is an opportunity to learn. How you
of your normal self, but you do not want to get a job by
Giving feedback
respond to feedback says more about you than the
It is amazing to find how many people still get the being someone else as it is unlikely you will be what Giving feedback can be as terrifying as receiving feedback itself.
basics wrong in applying for senior leadership posts and they are looking for. Again, at interview think whole it, but once you have changed your mindset around
do not follow the instructions. school: when you are asked questions give examples of from giving negative criticism to giving positive • Dot Struthers runs tele-coaching programmes on
Provided you have done that correctly, the letter is things you have done in your school, you do not have to encouragement, you will find it easier and more assertiveness. If you want to sign up to her free CPD
the crucial passport to a possible interview. Remember specifically say they are in your department. enjoyable. Here are three points to remember: newsletter, go to
the obvious things like keeping it to two sides and not Even better is if they link somewhere to the school’s
SecEd • April 2 2009 13
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