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15th Apr, 2024

Jack Ireland
Jack Ireland
Job Title
Content Marketing Executive

For many teachers in the UK, the prospect of progressing from the classroom to the head of a school is the ultimate goal. It signifies personal and professional excellence as well as a desire to effect positive change.

Whether you're at the start of your teaching career or already on the brink of headship, drawing on the experiences of seasoned headteachers can provide you with a comprehensive roadmap to taking the next step up.

So, how can you make the leap? What skills and traits should you develop? What does a headteacher do day to day? We spoke to Maggie Callaghan, Executive Headteacher at Hylands School in Chelmsford, and Jacques Maguire-Moran, Headteacher at Ashcroft School – an SEMH (social, emotional, and mental health needs) school in Coventry.

Maggie and Jacques

Q: What made you want to go into teaching?

Maggie: I always wanted to be a teacher, but due to life choices I didn't actually train until I was 29 and my son was 18 months old. I love English and reading and I was inspired to go into the profession by a series of amazing English teachers.

Jacques: I started to learn to play the piano when I was four and I started to teach piano lessons aged 16. Having studied music and music psychology at university, I knew that sharing my knowledge and creating and shaping the next generation of musicians was my passion. I think like a lot of teachers, you are guided by your parents and your own teachers. My mum was a science teacher for 20 years and I was inspired to pursue a career in music by my music teacher.

Q: When did you first realise that you wanted to be a headteacher?

Maggie: I wasn't sure that I did want to be a headteacher initially. However, I saw an advert for a headteacher role which said, “a small school with big ambitions” and I thought that really sounded like me!

Jacques: I taught as a peripatetic music teacher for five years and then undertook a school direct route into a PGDE with QTS at a special school in Nottingham. It was there that I worked with a truly inspirational headteacher which started my aspiration to become a head myself.

Q: What steps did you take to prepare for the role?

Maggie: I was studying for my NPQH (National Professional Qualification for Headship), but I also did a lot of reading about what starting at a new school would be like. I also read about CEOs of companies and other leaders to get to grips with what leadership entailed.

Jacques: Just as a medical student doesn’t graduate and instantly become a surgeon, achieving a headship takes many years of teaching practice, management, and experience. I have focused my career in special educational needs and have taught in many different settings across all key stages with children with complex needs.

Becoming head of department was the first step, followed by head of a key stage and the acting assistant head before I applied for a headship. It’s important to have as much varied experience so you are confident in your abilities to lead and support the staff team, and ensure that you can manage and maintain high standards of education for pupils.

Q: Could you outline what a typical day for a headteacher looks like?

Maggie: Ha! There isn't really a typical day. I arrive at work at about 6.45am-7am. I catch up on emails and check through my calendar. Any staff who are sick call me between 7am and 7.30am, then I have a leadership meeting at 7.45am every day. Then, I am on gate duty from 8am-8.30am every morning.

Once lessons start, my day entails walking the school and being on call to pick up students who are being disruptive, along with meeting with department heads and other members of the leadership team. These meetings are usually about the strategic direction of the school.

Jacques: Not really! I am head at a SEMH school for children with complex psychological and behavioural needs. ‘Typical’ isn’t often in our repertoire as things can fluctuate from the sublime to the highly challenging in seconds. A huge part of the job entails meeting with other professionals; social workers, psychologists, care staff, emergency services to constantly ensure the welfare and safeguarding of children and young people is upheld.

I have always felt it’s important to be present around the school, therefore I aim to always greet the children when they arrive, make time to have lunch with the students as often as I can, and I still teach the piano to my students. I believe that heads should still get in the classroom and be on the floor even if it’s just one lesson a week. It really shows the students and the staff that you are a teacher - not just a business manager, accountant, psychotherapist and all those other typical jobs that come into one day!

Q: Which part of the role do you find most rewarding?

Maggie: Anything that involves interacting with our students - they are amazing.

Jacques: Seeing children happy to be at school. Having set up a school from scratch, there is nothing more rewarding than knowing that children enjoy coming to a place where they love to learn.

It is also equally rewarding in knowing that staff love coming to work and feel appreciated, valued, and respected. Fostering an environment rich in equality and diversity where all are safe to flourish and make progress is my main aim.

Q: What is the one key skill, attribute, or trait you need to be a headteacher?

Maggie: You need three: patience, resilience, and compassion.

Jacques: Tricky question because you need a lot! In my setting, with the potential for hostility around the corner, I would say being as adaptive as possible is the most valuable skill. You never know what is going to happen in a ‘typical’ day. Reacting to and managing behaviour is by far the most important skill in an SEMH school. I would also say that being reasonable and understanding gets the best out of everyone as ultimately, if the kids and the staff like being at school, they’ll all get the most out of it.

Q: What advice do you have for education professionals aspiring to be headteachers?

Maggie: Do your research about the kind of school you want to lead and why. Also, make sure you talk to your family/partner about what it will entail and how you will balance your life. As it is an all-consuming job, you should establish routines that mean you do have a life outside of school and don't waiver from that.

Jacques: Keep the drive, motivation, and ambition. Put 110% into your practice as a teacher, gain as much experience as you can, and begin to work up to senior management positions.

If you are looking to take the next step in your career, get in touch with one of our specialist education consultants today.