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National Standards of Excellence for Headteachers 2020: Improving Leadership and Management

Helen Frostick, Head Teacher, St Mary Magdalen's Primary School discusses the changing role of a Headteacher in 2020 and the incredible work so many are doing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

If you'd like to hear more from Helen as well as Malcolm Trobe, Chair of the Review and Professor Qing Gu, Director, London Centre for Leadership in Learning, UCL about the DfE Headteacher Standards review then please see our newly launched training course and click on the button below:

Implement the 2020 Headteacher Standards in Your School

Headteachers have a very important role. Taken from the National standards of excellence for headteachers (2015):

“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 the school. They are accountable for the education of current and future generations of pupils.”

At no other time in the recent history of Education, have Headteachers had to be called upon to display that they are worthy of such a description of their roles and responsibilities. At this time of global pandemic, Headteachers have had to reorganise their schools for both remote learning to take place, as well as to offer a daily care provision at school for the most vulnerable and the children of keyworkers. This was within a timeframe of less than three weeks leading up to the decision to lock down.

As Headteacher of a small Catholic Primary school, I was able to draw on experience of sudden school closure and the need to organise alternative provision under extreme pressure. In 2008, builders at my school caused an asbestos accident that lead to the school closed overnight.  This was at a time without Parent Mail and internet communication. Thankfully, I had recently had a Class Representatives’ meeting in school and was able to talk to the health and safety team on site that evening, over the telephone, and request the telephone numbers of nine key parents from our pupil information cards. Eight parents telephoned every family in their class, whilst senior members of staff tried to alert every member of staff.

We were proud, the next morning, to have only one child and one School Meals’ Supervisory Assistant slip through the net and turn up for school. My office was set up on the wall outside school for the first two days until given a makeshift office in the Local Authority building.

This was two weeks before Christmas. The whole school then shared across five local primary schools with up to two classes in each, from January. This lasted for six weeks. One of the biggest challenges of my career, but also one of the times of most growth in my personal and professional attributes.

Headteachers will reach their personal and professional limits during, but also after, this pandemic as they strive to rebuild their school communities. Therefore, it is an interesting time to write about the revised National standards of excellence for headteachers in this article at this time.

The National Standards for Excellence for headteachers published in 2015 was up for review this year in May 2020. The review has brought some changes. The purpose of the standards are to underpin best practice and:

  • To inspire public confidence in Headteachers
  • To raise aspirations in schools
  • To secure high academic standards
  • To empower the teaching profession

In terms of public confidence in Headteachers, the parents at home being called upon to Educate their children at this time of lock down will have renewed appreciation of schools and their headteachers. Staff of schools are keyworkers going into school to run provision in order to protect the most vulnerable and to keep the most needed employees working. The press is positive for schools.

There are parallels in the standards between those of 2015 and those of 2020 as follows:

Domain One (2005)

Excellent Headteachers: qualities and knowledge

  • Hold and articulate clear values and moral purpose
  • Demonstrate positive personal behaviour
  • Lead by example and be a role model of integrity, creativity, resilience and clarity

Domain Two (2005)

Excellent Headteachers: pupils and staff

  • Demand ambitious standards for ALL pupils, overcoming disadvantage and advancing equality
  • Ensure rich curriculum opportunities for pupils’ well-being
  • Create an ethos within which ALL staff are motivated and supported to develop their own skills and subject knowledge, and to support each other.
  • Hold all staff to account for their professional conduct and practice

Revised Headteacher Standards May 2020

The standards become, “selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.” (National standards of excellence for headteachers 2020.)

These are more direct in their message to Headteachers, rather than purely descriptions. They are set out in detail:

Personal Characteristics of Headteachers

TRUST: Leaders are trustworthy and reliable. “We hold trust on behalf of children and should be beyond reproach. We are honest about our motivations.”

This calls on Headteachers to be transparent. When I became Headteacher of a Primary school, I made the decision to be honest throughout. Tested in a variety of situations. During an Ofsted Inspection, I had to present data for our English as an Additional Language Pupils. It was not an area of strength. I could have, literally, inflated them, but decided not to. A very negative parent questionnaire during an R.E inspection, which the parent handed me to read to get a reaction, I still handed in to the inspection team. There will be many times when we have challenges in this area.

WISDOM: Leaders use experience, knowledge and insight. “We demonstrate moderation and self-awareness. We act calmly and rationally. We serve our schools and colleges with propriety and a good sense.”

This calls on our emotional intelligence and ability to self-regulate our personal as well as professional response to challenges. There will be no greater test of this than at this current time.

KINDNESS: Leaders demonstrate respect, generosity of spirit, understanding and good temper. “We give difficult messages humanely where conflict is unavoidable.”

Many of our school staff will be shielding themselves or others because of the coronavirus and not able to share the load of running provision or providing remote learning. This calls Leaders to show kindness.

JUSTICE: Leaders are fair and work for the good of all children. “We seek to enable all young people to lead useful, happy and fulfilling lives.”

Headteachers will be ensuring that the most vulnerable are still under the protection of school. Either by physically welcoming them into school, or by organising food parcels, daily phone calls and the loan of school materials, such as hand held devices.

SERVICE: Leaders are conscientious and dutiful.

Under the revised ways of working, headteachers are at the sharp end. Working in new ways, but working no less hard, even harder.

The revised National standards of excellence for headteachers are personal, relatable, understandable and reasonable. Ethical and moral leadership at their core. What an interesting time to reflect upon them.


Read more about leadership practices in our IG Schools Handbook. 

Governance and Leadership Handbook