The next generation of school leaders should look to the National Standards of Excellence for Headteachers for inspiration

The self-improving school system — an underlying thread in the new headteachers’ standards — needs great future leaders and demands that current heads are nurturing talent spotters.

Experience in one urban authority a few years back taught me that giving colleagues the chance to be acting heads put the fire in their bellies to do the job full-time. In another large shire authority, clued in to succession planning, we identified 15 outstanding middle/senior leaders and coached many of them to headship over a year. They learned what kinds of schools they wanted to lead and in which contexts they felt most at ease with themselves as leaders.

One of the key purposes of the standards is to serve as a framework for training middle and senior leaders, encouraging them to dip their toes into headship. The imperative language of the four domains (“ensure”, “distribute”, “demand”, “model”) is not about commanding anyone; rather, the active verbs give a creative energy that can be motivational and conducive to productive debate and interpretation.

I worked for ten years as headteacher with a tremendous chair of governors. Whenever one of our best teachers moved on, he would shake them warmly by the hand and offer sincere congratulations. He would say to me: “graveyards are full of indispensable people Roy – you’ll find a replacement”. He was right about most things.

Excellent leaders are not readily found

No leader is indispensable. But excellent leaders are not readily found. Schools too often find themselves advertising vacancies a number of times. We must ensure that these new standards are used positively to motivate current heads and whet the appetites of aspiring heads.

What might aspiring heads do by way of short and mid-term preparation for headship, harnessing the framework of the standards? Here are some starters, linked to each of the four domains, drafted partly with interviews for headship in mind.

Domain one: qualities and knowledge

– Be clear with yourself about the set of personal and professional values that underpin your work in schools. Which wise parents, community leaders, thinkers or writers have influenced your thinking and can you talk about them succinctly at an interview?

– Share your own scholarship and expertise in a way that others see you as a “go-to” colleague. Lead a staff seminar on a topic of your choice related to that area of expertise. Write an article for an education journal/website.

Domain two: pupils and staff

– Reflect on your own practice and how you are successful in making a difference with disadvantaged pupils. If asked at a headship interview what you would do in a new school to “close the achievement gap”, what would you say?

– Write yourself a short paper on different models of curriculum and extra-curricular design: special, primary, secondary – as suits. At an interview, what do you say are your preferred models for organising a school curriculum?

Domain three: systems and process

– List three organisational systems that are particularly effective in your school? If you were assuming the headship of your current school, which other systems would you change and why? Moving to another school, which of your successful systems would you wish to see in the new context?

– Can you talk to an interview panel about the Nolan principles of public life? Selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, leadership. As a head, where do you place greatest emphasis?

Domain four: the self-improving school system

– Note down four educational settings you have visited in the past year. What did you learn from the visits and what impact back in your own school did those visits have? Do your own performance management objectives include spending a number of days outside your own school?

– Looking ahead to your headship years, what do you think the “self-regulating and self-improving school” will look like? What are your ideas on the most effective forms of external accountability?

Roy Blatchford was vice-chair of the independent review group that wrote the National Standards of Excellence for Headteachers