Heads Up: Meeting the Challenges of Headteacher Recruitment

Click here to download a PDF of the report.

Great school leaders are vital in ensuring that children from poorer backgrounds get a great education but as this report shows there is a growing shortage of headteachers.

The evidence

There are two key issues: the insufficient supply of senior leaders willing to become headteachers; and the negative view of headship that has developed.

  • In a 2015 survey by the National Governors’ Association (NGA), 43% of respondents reported that it was difficult to find good candidates when recruiting senior staff.

  • In a 2015 survey by The Key, 86.8% of school leaders believed headship was less attractive as a career choice than it was in 2010.

  • A 2015 survey of headteachers by The Future Leaders Trust and TES saw less than half of respondents saying that they still planned to be a headteacher in ten years.

Perceptions of headship

The aim of this report is to change perceptions of headship. It contains contributions from sector experts and serving headteachers who reflect on what makes a great headteacher, and features a comprehensive account of The Future Leaders Trust’s leadership competencies.

  • Professor John Howson argues that headship will not become an attractive role until “it is accepted that leaders themselves need support and recognition for their work”.

  • Emma Knights, CEO of the NGA, writes that recruitment must be addressed by “re-doubl[ing] the efforts in succession planning and preparing talented people for leadership, while supporting and valuing those great teachers who want to stay in the classroom”.

  • Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, believes “that many leadership attributes can be developed and that people who are not currently ready to lead can become so”.

Leadership skills

Headteachers also discuss the skills they have had to develop in order to become effective school leaders.

  • Future Leader Matt Butler, Executive Principal at Oasis Academies North Bristol, reflects, “It’s never going to go well all of the time and headship can be a lonely place. But Future Leaders helps you to develop your resilience and emotional maturity.”

  • Future Leader Rimah Aasim, Headteacher at Worth Valley Primary School, Bradford, explains that “During the past year I have been improving the competency of developing others. I’ve always believed in supporting colleagues but our students need us to be the best that we can be.”

  • Future Leader Nichola Smith, Meadstead Primary Academy, Barnsley, explains how her anxieties faded: “The fear of career suicide has, for me, evaporated. As a head I have more opportunities for development than ever before, especially through Future Leaders where I meet some of the world’s best practitioners.”

This report shows that being a headteacher is challenging but achievable and is a role that brings significant autonomy and fulfilment.

Read more about Future Leaders at

> To download a PDF of the report click here.

> To read more about the research and England's headteacher shortage, click here.

Craig D'Cunha

Experts' opinion 

Heath Monk bw

Heath Monk

CEO, The Future Leaders Trust

Heath Monk, Chief Executive Officer of The Future Leaders Trust, discusses the importance of leadership in tackling educational disadvantage - click here.

Professor John Howson

Prof. John Howson

Director, TeachVac

Professor John Howson, Director of TeachVac and Honorary Norham Fellow at the University of Oxford, discusses how he has tracked headship for decades - click here.

Sir Michael Wilshaw

Sir Michael Wilshaw

Chief Inspector, Ofsted

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Ofsted, explains the rewarding challenge of headship - click here.

Emma Knights

Emma Knights

Chief Executive, NGA

Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governors’ Association, discusses a governor's most important task - click here.

Brian Lightman

Brian Lightman

General Secretary, ASCL

Brian Lightman, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, addresses the myths of headship - click here.

Russell Hobby

Russell Hobby

General Secretary, NAHT

Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, discusses leadership attributes - click here.

Jan Renou

Jan Renou

Regional Schools Commissioner

Jan Renou, Regional Schools Commissioner for the North, talks about the value and future of headship - click here.

Michael Barber

Sir Michael Barber

Chief Education Advisor, Pearson

Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Advisor at Pearson, discusses inspiration, consistency and a golden age ahead - click here.

Roxanne Vines

The hurdles to headship

As the experts above have reflected, being a headteacher is complex yet rewarding. However, its challenges are often simplified and over-represented, and circulated within the sector and in the media. The hurdles to headship that research shows often put people off applying to become a head, particularly in challenging schools, include:

  • No work-life balance

  • Modern education is soulless

  • You lose the classroom

  • Lonely at the top

  • Career 'suicide'

Click here to read more about these hurdles to headship, and how they have been reported in the press.

The job is all-consuming and I feel so alone. There seems to be no one I can go to when things go wrong.

- Guardian February 2015

These hurdles are real but they can be overcome by people who possess or are willing to develop the necessary competencies. The Future Leaders Trust has identified the competencies that great leaders possess and supports members of the Future Leaders network to develop these personal qualities as much as their sector expertise.

Leadership competencies

These are the ways of thinking, acting and being through which Future Leaders headteachers make an impact in their schools, and overcome some of the hurdles outlined above.

Headship can be a lonely place. But Future Leaders helps you to develop your Resilience and emotional maturity; in my view the most fundamental traits of successful heads.

- Matt Butler, Executive Principal at Oasis Academies North Bristol

These leadership competencies are:

  • Moral purpose

  • Curiosity and eagerness to learn

  • Developing others

  • Holding to account

  • Impact and influence

  • Inspiring others

  • Personal drive

  • Resilience and emotional maturity

  • Relating to others

  • Self-awareness

  • Strategic thinking

Click here to read more about our competency framework.

The following case studies contain reflections from Future Leaders about how these competencies have helped them in their work as heads.

Walking down corridor

Reflections from Future Leaders headteachers

Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Executive Principal

Matt Butler, Executive Principal at Oasis Academies North Bristol, talks about how he built competencies from business to headship - click here.

Rimah Aasim

Rimah Aasim


Rimah Aasim, Headteacher at Worth Valley Primary School in Bradford, discusses the importance of developing self and others - click here.

Sarah Ramsden

Sarah Ramsden

Principal, The Blyth Academy

Sarah Ramsden, Principal at The Blyth Academy in Northumberland, talks about collaboration in headship - click here.

Nichola Smith

Nichola Smith

Meadstead Primary Academy

Nichola Smith, Acting Headteacher at Meadstead Primary Academy in Barnsley, discusses empowerment through leadership - click here.

The Future Leaders network

We recruit talented leaders who share our belief that every child can and should achieve. Future Leaders work in schools that serve the country’s most economically disadvantaged areas and are supported to make a positive, sustainable impact.

We have developed almost 160 headteachers of challenging schools.

To read more about the Future Leaders network, and our impact on the achievement of disadvantaged pupils, click here.

Could you be a Future Leader?


There is a shortage of headteachers in England. #HeadsUp is a national campaign, run by The Future Leaders Trust, which aims to combat this problem by finding new headteachers for challenging schools.

We are recruiting for our Future Leaders programme, which trains and develops great teachers to lead challenging schools. Could you be a Future Leader, or do you know someone else who could be?

Find out more:

Apply for Future Leaders

Future Leaders is a leadership development programme for those who share our commitment to eradicating educational disadvantage.

Find out more