Is there life after Headship?
Plenty of head teachers want to stay in the job for as long as they can; they went into headship for a reason, and that hasn’t changed. Others, however, will find themselves looking for a new challenge – or perhaps a new way of working – after a successful career in school leadership.
In many cases that means another education-related position working for government, Ofsted or even a private consultancy; often people organise this as a portfolio of related part-time jobs. For other former heads, leaving their school is a chance for a fresh start, which could mean anything from setting up their own business to using their leadership skills in a different type of organisation.
Over the coming months, we will look at some of the career paths followed by former heads and talk to them about how and why they made their choices. For the moment though, let’s examine the first part of that choice: how do you decide what to do next? The first step is not rushing in to anything, says Marianne Cantwell, a career coach. “Take a step back and stop thinking about your career,” she says. “Instead, start thinking about what you want out of your life and why you want to change your career.”
This isn’t about being an impractical dreamer – you need to consider your financial requirements, for example – but about thinking about what you want from your life in the round, whether that’s more time to yourself or the chance to shape policy rather than implement it.
“The other thing to remember is that the skills that got you to the top of the career ladder as a head teacher won’t necessarily be those that help you change career,” Marianne adds. If you decide to go into a related career such as interim headship the move should be relatively straightforward, as potential employers will find it easy to see how your experience will help them. But if you are making a major change you will need a different approach and will, almost certainly, have to use your network rather than job advertisements to find your next post.
And, of course, you will have to start thinking about transferable skills – abilities developed during headship that will be valuable to other employers. Janet Davies, director of myexecutivecareer.com, cites managing staff and controlling a big budget as two of the most obvious. “A lot of head teachers don’t realise just how transferable their skills are,” she says. “It can be easy for heads to stay in their own world, a career bubble of education.”
She suggests that anyone looking to move into a job outside the sector starts building a wider professional network. “One of the most important things you can do is to start meeting people outside education and outside the public sector. Use the connections you have cultivated to help your students find work experience, for example.”
Yes, people hate networking, she says, but it’s almost the only way for someone without direct industry experience to make a significant change; in the current economic environment, employers who advertise posts get so many applications that they can afford to discard the CVs of anyone who offers a less than exact match with their criteria. As well as providing useful contacts, a broader network will make it easier to assess your skills more laterally, she adds.
Janet suggests that charities and other not for profit organisations would find head teachers’ broad management skills very useful, while the “third sector” is likely to have an ethos that appeals to the caring, socially-committed nature of most heads. Working for a big corporate employer is also an option, albeit a more difficult one; while general management skills will transfer, it may be harder to demonstrate the commercial awareness that the private sector requires. Making sure that your CV lists achievements rather than responsibilities (“saved 15% on annual IT bill after renegotiating contract” rather than “ran Joe Bloggs Secondary School for five years”) is a start.
But very few heads do actually move into the private sector, says John Laycock, a partner at Veredus, a major executive search firm. “The stereotype still exists that, if you have been in the school system all your life, it’s difficult to move out of it. We do see lots of [former heads] working in local authorities as heads of school improvement or BSF directors – although that is of course now under question – and…some move into central government education advisory posts.
Generic leadership skills
“Away from that it’s quite rare. You would think that a successful head teacher could take their generic leadership skills and apply them in other sectors, but there’s little evidence of that happening.” He’s not sure whether that’s because non-education employers are rejecting them, or simply that heads are not interested in leaving the field. “At the end of the day education is their passion so it may well be their choice to stay in the sector. Their mission in life is to improve chances for kids.” Anyone who does plan to move into the corporate world needs to be very clear about both what they can offer and why a potential employer needs them.
The one exception to the lack of public-private crossover is consultancy. Firms that provide services to schools, FE colleges and local authorities all value the contacts and expertise that head teachers can bring – as long as they can ally it with commercial nous. “Their insider knowledge could be quite attractive to [these employers]…but they will be assessed on their commerciality and their marketing or sales skills. For a lot of head teachers that will be completely alien. But I do know heads who are doing it.”
Mike Beard, Assistant Secretary at the NAHT, encourages head teachers to start thinking about what happens after headship while they are still in their 40s. “We know that some individuals want to take phased retirement, where you carry on working part-time but also collect some of your pension,” he says. “Others might decide to work part time, which will mean that you are not accruing pension benefits at the same rate…but many people find that working like this means that they will actually work longer because the days off give them time to recuperate.”
Planning beforehand will make it easier to decide which path to take, he says; members can find out more at one of the Association’s regular Planning For Your Future events.
This article is the first in a series of articles looking at some of the careers that heads take once they leave teaching. The next article will examine the challenges and possibilities around interim and consultancy positions, as well as talking to heads who have moved into these roles.
Research published in 2007 by education professor Peter Earley and one of his colleagues at the Institute of Education found that only about a fifth of heads who leave their school go on to another headship; 11 per cent of primary and 14 per cent of secondary heads move into another post in education; while 4 per cent of primary and 3 per cent of secondary move into jobs outside education. The vast majority of each group retired – in many cases, before the age of 60.
“But [since the research was conducted] the recession has put paid to a lot of heads taking early retirement,” Peter says. “When I wrote the paper there was a distinct trend of heads, mainly the more entrepreneurial heads, saying ‘right, I have done this for 10 years and I need a new challenge’.” Now more will be looking at other options, such as partial retirement or even refreshing their approach to their current position.
Carly Chynoweth is a freelance journalist who writes about leadership and management in both the public and private sectors.
Page Published: 29/06/2010