Skip to content
School & trust leaders

Executive headteachers: what's in a name?

Research highlighting the spectrum of executive headteacher roles and the need for definition and development

disciplinary meeting at a school

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 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 roles and responsibilities.

Research overview

This research was carried out in 2016 by the National Governance Association (NGA), the Future Leaders Trust (TFLT) and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).

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.

Key findings

  • The remit and responsibilities of executive headteachers (EHTs) varies according to the number of schools they work with, the structure linking those schools, whether or not they have a substantive headship role, and the schools’ strategic priorities.
  • Scale and size are important considerations; however, at what point another form of strategic leadership may be required needs further exploration.
  • The roles of EHTs are distinct from traditional headteacher roles, requiring higher levels of strategic thinking; greater emphasis on coaching, delegating and achieving change through others; and capacity to look outward.

Recommendations include:

  • The Department for Education (DfE) should facilitate a profession-led definition of executive headship with associated skills, competencies, organisational structures and indicative remuneration.
  • Workforce planning must ensure sufficient numbers of leaders progress upward to fill new EHT positions while also sustaining traditional leadership roles.
  • Governing boards should actively decide (with appropriate guidance) whether to add a level of strategic leadership and how this is structured.
  • More professional development and support networks for EHTs and aspirant EHTs are needed.
  • National systems need to be developed to more accurately record information about EHT posts.


  • "This research has provided much-needed information about executive heads, but the variations in practice suggest that there has not been enough clarity about the role or the skills required to undertake it well. NGA urges governors and trustees to define the exact role their executive head is required to play before recruiting to such a post."

    Emma Knights OBE

    Emma Knights

    NGA Chief Executive

    Related content