Free article: National standards of excellence for headteachers

Published: Thursday, 16 April 2015

Tony Powell looks at the revised national standards for headteachers and how they should be used by schools.

Summary

  • National standards for headteachers were published in November 2004 and changes were consulted on in January 2015.
  • The standards are intended for governing bodies, headteachers and aspiring headteachers.
  • The standards reflect the changes that have taken place in the role of the headteacher.
  • The national standards for headteachers are not compulsory but it is likely the DfE would expect schools to have regard for them and use them as best practice.
  • There are four different domains in the standards:
    1. Qualities and knowledge
    2. Pupils and staff
    3. Systems and process
    4. The self-improving school system.

The National standards for headteachers were first published in November 2004. They were reissued in January 2015.

There are many areas of commonality in the two documents, for example in the insistence that the headteacher’s role needs to be considered as a whole. However, it is more accurate to see the new standards as a complete rewrite rather than a revision. The first point to note is the insertion of a reference to excellence in the title, which is used throughout the document.

The standards have been rewritten to reflect the many changes that have taken place in the role of the headteacher over the last 10 years, for example through the introduction of academies and free schools and the executive headteacher.

Status of the standards

Unlike the teachers’ standards, these are not compulsory. However, since this is DfE guidance schools would be expected to have regard for them and it would be considered to be good practice for schools to use them. The standards are in fact presented as ‘guidance to underpin best practice’.

The guidance also states that these standards for headteachers are built upon the foundation of the teachers’ standards, including the personal and professional code of conduct. This takes for granted that all headteachers will meet the teachers’ standards.

The standards are not intended to be used as a checklist or to be broken down into gradations within each domain and the characteristics. The standards should instead be used in a holistic way. Very importantly, failure to meet one of the characteristics should not be used as the basis for capability.

What are the standards?

The standards are organised into a preamble, which describes the modern role of the headteacher, and four domains. The preamble states that the role of the headteacher is as follows:

‘Headteachers occupy an influential position in society and shape the teaching profession. They are lead professionals and significant role models within the communities they serve. The values and ambitions of headteachers determine the achievements of schools. They are accountable for the education of current and future generations of children. Their leadership has a decisive impact on the quality of teaching and pupils’ achievements in the nation’s classrooms. Headteachers lead by example the professional conduct and practice of teachers in a way that minimises unnecessary teacher workload and leaves room for high-quality continuous professional development for staff. They secure a climate for the exemplary behaviour of pupils. They set standards and expectations for high academic standards within and beyond their own schools, recognising differences and respecting cultural diversity within contemporary Britain. Headteachers, together with those responsible for governance, are guardians of the nation’s schools.’

There is nothing new in the description of the headteacher’s role in driving up educational standards. Where there is a greater focus than in the past is the importance of headteachers within society, with the references to ‘an influential position’, the ‘nation’s classrooms’ and particularly, ‘recognising differences and respecting cultural diversity within contemporary Britain.’

The four domains are:

  1. Qualities and knowledge
  2. Pupils and staff
  3. Systems and process
  4. The self-improving school system.

Within each of these domains there are six associated characteristics that are expected of headteachers.

Who are the standards for and how can they be used?

The standards are intended for governing bodies, headteachers and aspiring headteachers. Although the standards should not be used as a detailed tick list, each domain and characteristic can be used in a reflective and developmental way. They can be used in the following ways.

By headteachers to shape their own practice

  • Headteachers can check through the standards to shape their own practice and professional development, within and beyond the school.
  • The standards can be used by headteachers as a framework for such self-development, for them to consider what they have done already or need to do going forward to move closer to the aspirations set out in the standards.
  • Headteachers can use the standards to have a constructive conversation with their governors about the areas in which the headteacher feels they need support to develop.
  • Headteachers can use the standards to support their staff, and to identify the skills and knowledge they need in their leadership team.

By governors to inform the appraisal of headteachers

  • The standards can be used to inform the appraisal of headteachers by serving as a background document to assist governing boards.
  • The standards may be used to inform objective setting.
  • Governors can use the standards in appraisal to frame a broad overview of leadership in the specific context of the school. The standards can also serve as a starting point for the identification of specific objectives.
  • Governors should work with headteachers to understand what the school needs in order to progress. They should consider what needs to be done to support the headteacher to implement the school improvement plan and support colleagues.

By governors to support the recruitment and appointment of headteachers

  • The standards can be used to underpin and shape role descriptions and person specifications.
  • Governing boards can use the standards as a check to ensure that their selection process is sufficiently comprehensive, covering all of the key areas of headship set out in the standards.

By headteachers, governing boards and aspirant headteachers, to provide a framework for training middle and senior leaders aspiring to headship

  • The transition to headship involves mastering a broad range of competences. The standards are not an exclusive or complete list of these skills.
  • The standards can help to identify potential future leaders and be used to shape the developmental experiences offered to middle and senior leaders.
  • Aspirant headteachers can use the standards to evaluate their own progress towards being prepared for headship, and to identify the areas where they need more experience.

Further information:

  • National standards of excellence for headteachers: Departmental advice for headteachers, governing boards and aspiring headteachers, DfE January 2015, Ref. DFE-00019-2015): http://bit.ly/HeadteacherStandards 

Toolkit

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About the author

Tony Powell is an experienced Additional Inspector and local authority adviser. He writes extensively on education management, but his main work is in supporting schools to develop systems for self-evaluation, school improvement and continuing professional development. Tony can be contacted at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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