Wishford Schools

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Some thoughts for aspiring Heads

Being a Head is not for the faint-hearted! The very best Heads are inspiring leaders, meticulous managers and have a clear educational vision. But they are also great teachers, salesmen, HR managers, peacekeepers and marriage guidance counsellors. With such a broad set of skills required, it is no surprise that the recruitment process can be fairly gruelling.

Having recruited five Heads for schools within the Wishford Schools group in the last five years, I've seen some great candidates - and some not so great. So here are my top tips for those aspiring to Headship.

Are you ready? Really? I get it. You're ambitious. You look at your current Head and think to yourself, 'I could do that.' After all, it seems like they spend most of their time drinking tea. But hold on. As Head you need to inspire confidence in your colleagues, your parents, your pupils. If your experience to date is exclusively in the classroom or a middle management role, then trust me - you aren't ready. Work your way up the ladder via a Deputy Head role (we've got a couple of great Deputy Head roles available at the moment). Don't be in a rush - you'll be a better Head with a wheelbarrowful of experience to call on.

Be selective. Decide what kind of school suits you best. Town or country? Small or large? Premium or value for money? Academically selective or not? If you go for every role advertised your application won't be convincing and you'll soon get a reputation amongst the small community of professional recruiters. Much better to think carefully about what sort of school you want, and be realistic about where you fit best.

Be proactive. Build your brand. You need a great profile on LinkedIn that tells prospective employers and recruiters who you are and what you’re about. Write some articles for your school newsletter, or one of the many magazines focused on the sector. Get out and about at conferences and trade shows. Build your network. I’m always on the lookout for rising stars and so are the recruiters. If your name is already on my radar you’ve given yourself an advantage when I’m sifting through applications. If you are looking for a Deputy Head role, think about joining a group of schools that has a leadership development programme, as we do within Wishford Schools.

Keep it snappy. We need to talk about your application! Yes, yes, we know that you are passionate about helping every child fulfil their potential. We all are. That's why work in education. Tell me something I don't know. Don't write me a two page covering letter of generic waffle. I’ve got fifty of those on my desk already. A single page that tells me why you are interested in this school is all that's needed and is much more likely to be read. I know it's tempting to cut and paste from the last form you filled in, but it's really obvious that you've done it and it undermines everything you've written about this school being ‘the one.’ Oh, and do check your application carefully before you send it!

Do your homework. If you get through to the interview, make sure you know who you are meeting, and why. Read everything you can about the school and then demonstrate during your visit that you’ve read the inspection report, newsletters, etc. Use your network to tell you about the interviewer and what they are looking for. If I’m interviewing you and you don’t already know all about the group and how our schools work together, you’re probably not the person I’m looking for. If there’s a recruiter involved, make sure you talk to them and get their perspective.

Be prepared. You are going to be asked why you want to be a Head, why that school and what you can bring to the role. Whatever you do, don't fluff these questions. They won’t win you the job, but they might lose it for you. There’s no excuse for not having snappy answers. Make your point clearly and then stop talking. If the interviewer wants more information they’ll ask for it! And finally, please make sure you’ve got a couple of questions ready to ask at the end. You’ll almost certainly have the opportunity and if you haven’t got anything prepared I’m probably going to wonder how carefully you’ve thought about the role in advance of the interview.

Breathe. Next we’re going to talk through some scenarios – how would you deal with a disgruntled parent, an underperforming colleague or a child protection issue. One tip – take a breath before you launch into your response. Think about the question and what lies behind it. The interviewer is setting you up with an opportunity to demonstrate knowledge and experience. Relate your answer to something you’ve actually done in your current role. Be ready to justify your response.

And relax. It’s all over. Well done. A firm handshake and off you go. There can be only one successful candidate, so if you aren’t selected think carefully about why. Ask the recruiter for feedback and listen carefully to what they say, reading between the lines because we are all far too polite and don’t want to hurt your feelings. ‘Some of your answers could have been more succinct’ means you were waffling…

And on that note, I’ll stop. But do get in touch to share your views and experiences!

Sam Antrobus, Executive Chairman