Release date: 08/07/2016

Research published today by the National Governors' Association, the Future Leaders Trust and the National Foundation for Educational Research has found that the number of executive headteachers in England is rapidly increasing even though their remit and responsibilities are still largely undefined.

The research highlights a spectrum of executive headteachers – often with varied areas of responsibility. This creates challenges across the education system by blurring lines of accountability at executive and governance levels, and potentially confusing the roles and responsibilities between leaders at individual schools and the executive headteacher overseeing them.

In the March White Paper the government stated its desire that all schools become part of a group. With executive headteachers managing on average between three to six schools, the researchers estimate that there may be a demand for between 3200 and 6700 more executive headteachers by 2022. This estimate matches the historic rate of growth – with the number of executive headteachers growing by 240% between 2010 and 2014.   

The Future Leaders Trust (TFLT), National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and National Governors’ Association (NGA) today highlight the need for the government to facilitate discussions for a sector-led definition of the role and for other networks and training and development partners to devise more formal and informal professional development for those already in post as well as aspirant executive headteachers.   

The research also found that women are proportionally under-represented in executive headship compared to the proportion in traditional headship¹ and, separately, that an excellent headteacher may not necessarily be an excellent executive headteacher because the professional skills needed are different.

TFLT, NFER, and NGA set out to clarify the emerging role of executive headteacher, and explore implications for future policy, for good governance and career support.

Carole Willis, Chief Executive of NFER, said: “There is currently little information about the role of executive headteacher, which is concerning given their important and growing role in the self-improving schools system. We want to see more awareness-raising about the role and training provision put in place for executive heads. We recommend that the government begins collecting relevant data now as part of the existing school workforce census. This will allow the sector to create the structures that will support our new executive heads in the vital role of school improvement. More research will also be needed into the effectiveness and impact of executive headteachers alongside other governance models.”
Jacqueline Russell, Acting CEO of The Future Leaders Trust, said: “The report’s findings about the future of executive headship show that we need to be developing a pipeline for this vital role. Even more leaders, some developed by The Future Leaders Trust, are stepping up to executive headship and we hope to be able to support them with a forthcoming programme, helping them to maximize their impact as they lead multiple schools. The Trust has supported 19 people who have reached executive headship and we expect to see more join them where they will all have a positive impact on many thousands of children.”
Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governors’ Association, said: “This research has provided some much-needed information about executive heads, but the variations in practice suggest that in some cases there has not been enough clarity in the thinking about the role or the skills required to undertake it well. Some remain as headteachers of at least one school, while others do not. The governing board appoints the headteacher of a standalone school and the lead executive (an executive head or a chief executive) of a group of schools. NGA urges governors and trustees to define the exact role their executive head is required to play before making a decision to recruit to such a post and to ensure that the qualities required are thoroughly tested during the selection process.  This needs to be done in the context of the full senior leadership structure.  Executive headships are well-paid posts and we must not risk building into staffing structures duplication or other inefficiencies when schools are so short of funds.”

The report is the result of longitudinal analysis of the school workforce census over a period of five years (from 2010 to 2014); over 30 interviews with executive headteachers, senior leaders and governors; and a desktop review of 30 headteacher and executive headteacher  job application packs.

¹In 2014 56% of executive headteachers were female compared to 66% of traditional headteachers

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