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Headteacher recruitment: an overview
Read our step-by-step guide to recruiting a headteacher, including advertising, shortlisting candidates, holding interviews and making the appointment.
This article is based on headteacher recruitment guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) and the National Governance Association (NGA), and the School Staffing (England) Regulations 2009, which apply to maintained schools.
Confirm who'll be involved
Know who has legal responsibility
|Maintained schools||The governing board||See page 8 of the DfE guidance|
|Single academies||Board of trustees||See article 107 of the DfE’s model articles of association
Check your own in case they vary
|Multi-academy trusts (MATs)||Board of trustees, unless delegated||
See article 107 of the model articles of association
The members of an academy trust don't have a formal responsibility here, but could be involved in the process elsewhere, such as on the selection panel. Bob Anderson, former HR director at a large MAT, told us this.
Appoint a selection panel
Maintained school governing boards must appoint a selection panel of at least 3 governors, and:
- The current headteacher can't be on it
- At least 1 member must undertake safer recruitment training
This is set out in regulations 9, 15 and 27 of the school staffing regulations, and page 19 of the DfE guidance.
It is also good practice for academies to set up selection panels. There aren't rules on who can sit on it, but it's best practice for 1 member to have had safer recruitment training (see pages 18 to 19 of the DfE guidance).
In a MAT, it's a good idea to involve the relevant local governing body in recruiting a headteacher for that school, potentially on the panel, even if you don't have to, according to our governance expert Jacqueline Baker.
We have a safer recruitment elearning course on Safeguarding Training Centre from The Key, which you can take if your school has access to the full package. Ask your headteacher or designated safeguarding lead (DSL) for more information, and try a demo here.
Seek professional support
It's essential your board can access the skills you need to carry out effective selection processes and follow agreed procedures (see page 14 of the DfE advice).
You might need to seek someone with expertise in education, HR, remuneration or administration to advise you throughout the process.
- Read about setting up a selection panel in more detail, including who is eligible to sit on the panel
Tell the local authority (maintained schools)
Maintained schools must notify their local authority (LA) in writing when there's a headteacher vacancy.
This is set out in regulations 15 and 27 of the school staffing regulations.
Academies don't need to do this unless your articles of association or funding agreement says so.
Carefully plan through the whole recruitment process before you start. Consider:
- How long you’ll need to write and publish your advert
- How much time you’ll need to give potential candidates to apply, so you have a reasonable number of applications
- How long you’ll need for your internal processes, such as shortlisting
- What you want to have in place for interviews and any tasks you’ll be setting
Don’t just use an advert you've used before, or the same interview questions, without checking they're still relevant. Make sure you prepare a clear person specification and job description for the role.
Our expert Jacqueline Baker told us this.
Be clear on your long-term strategy
Before beginning the recruitment and selection process, your full board should pin down:
- The current situation at your school
- Your future aspirations and long-term plans
- The leadership you need to achieve your objectives
- The specific accountabilities and responsibilities the headteacher will have
- The salary
This is recommended on page 17 of the DfE's advice.
Advertise the vacancy
Maintained schools must advertise any headteacher vacancy unless there's a "good reason" not to. See regulation 15 of the school staffing regulations.
In academies, you can set your own procedures and choose whether to advertise or not, as long as you comply with your articles of association and funding agreements.
Learn how to advertise a post and attract candidates. It looks at what to include in an advert, using the application pack well, and advice on how to make the advert effective and improve its search engine optimisation.
We have more top tips for attracting candidates in another article.
Members of the selection panel should review all of the applications independently and score them in accordance with a specified criteria. They should then come together to review their scores and use these to decide which candidates to interview.
Maintained schools need to tell the LA the names of those shortlisted. Other than this, all shortlisting paperwork should remain confidential to those governors involved.
This is taken from page 25 of the DfE guidance, and regulation 15 of the school staffing regulations.
Get help with shortlisting and download a template here.
- Make sure references are not open (e.g. 'to whom it may concern') and do not rely on applicants obtaining their own reference
- Ask for written information about previous employment history
- Check the information isn't contradictory or incomplete, e.g. by verifying the information with the person who provided the reference
- Get a reference from the candidate’s current employer and make sure it was completed by a senior person. Where a candidate isn't currently employed, get a reference from their most recent employer, including their reasons for leaving
- Secure a reference from the relevant employer from the last time the applicant worked with children (if they're not currently working with children). If the applicant has never worked with children, then obtain a reference from their current employer
- Scrutinise references and resolve any concerns you have before confirming the appointment, e.g. by checking electronic references, such as emails, are from a legitimate source. This applies to internal candidates too
This is set out in paragraph 204 of the DfE's statutory safeguarding guidance, Keeping Children Safe In Education (KCSIE).
Interviews are a key part of the recruitment process. They allow the panel to confirm whether a candidate is likely to succeed in the school and in the role.
You could invite headteachers to an interview day, involving a formal sit-down interview plus extra tasks such as presentations, assemblies, in-tray exercises and finance tasks.
This is taken from page 27 of the DfE guidance.
For examples of interview questions created with our governance experts, take a look at our article.
Or, browse our full range of interview questions & tasks.
Consider equality law
In an interview, you can't ask candidates about 'protected characteristics' (such as age, religion or sexual orientation) marital status, or whether they have children, or plan to have children.
You can ask about health or disability, but only in certain circumstances.
See the government's website for more information on avoiding discrimination when recruiting. You'll also find the number for a helpline in case you have any questions.
Appoint the successful candidate
To appoint the candidate:
Get each member of the panel to independently score each candidate against every question asked
Reach a consensus among the panel on the best candidate based on the evidence you have
Then, for maintained schools, the board will need to approve the selection panel's decision. You could do this during a meeting of the board where the panel identifies the preferred candidate and the reasons for selecting them, followed by an endorsement vote of the board.
Once the decision has been ratified:
- Make a verbal offer of conditional appointment, subject to required checks
- Follow up in writing - a verbal job offer is still legally binding, but government advice recommends you give the offer in writing too
- Make arrangements to notify unsuccessful candidates of the outcome of their application, and provide them with feedback
This is set out on pages 28 and 29 of the DfE advice.
See more guidance on the ratification process for headteacher appointments.
Communicate the appointment
Wait for confirmation
Once the new headteacher has accepted the role, the chair should ask them how and when they'd like the decision to be made public. The candidate may need time to resign from their current job first - particularly important if they already work nearby, as news can spread very quickly.
If you want to update people before the candidate is ready, you could publicly say you've made an appointment, but are waiting for the candidate’s final acceptance before making the decision public.
Our expert, Jacqueline Baker, explained this.
Make the announcement
Once everyone is ready, the chair of governors should write a letter on behalf of the governors informing staff, pupils and parents of the appointment.
Give the letter to pupils to take home, and/or send it electronically. Make sure staff and parents are told on the same day.
You could also:
- Inform the local community of the appointment
- Announce the appointment in a local newspaper
- Update the school website with a statement from the new headteacher
Our governance expert Hayley James, told us this.
Update Get information about schools
Maintained schools and academies need to update 'Get information about schools'.
Academy trusts must do this within 14 days when there is a change to the governance information. This includes changes to the:
- Accounting officer - this should be the principal in a single academy, and the CEO in a MAT
- Headteacher - this is for academies within a MAT
See paragraphs 2.54 to 2.58 of the Academy Trust Handbook.
Evaluate the process
Evaluate the recruitment process once you've finished, to identify strengths and areas to improve. Ask yourselves:
- Did our method of recruitment attract a good pool of applicants?
- How do the results of equality monitoring of all those who applied for the vacancy compare to those we shortlisted?
- Were there any interview questions that produced consistently poor responses?
- Did our assessment tasks adequately test skills and attributes in the way we needed?
See page 31 of the DfE guidance for more considerations.
Hayley James is a governance consultant who works with governing bodies in maintained schools and academies. She is also a governor trainer for a local authority, a governor on an IEB, and has experience as a freelance clerk to governors.
Jacqueline Baker is an education consultant who specialises in senior leadership recruitment. She supports schools through the recruitment process and helps them develop leadership capacity. Jacqueline also has experience as a chair of a governing board.
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