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Exemplifying excellence: revised standards for headteachers

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The Department for Education (DfE) recently published the national standards of excellence for headteachers. These replace the 2004 standards, and aim to exemplify what excellence looks like in relation to headteachers’ performance.

The new standards are set out in four 'domains'. Each contains descriptors of excellent practice and refers to competencies that headteachers and aspiring headteachers should be able demonstrate. For more information, please see this article from The Key.

Beyond providing a useful measure for benchmarking excellence in headship, the revised standards also offer an interesting insight into the role itself, and how it has evolved within the context of an increasingly autonomous school system.

The overriding purpose of the headteacher role has not changed significantly. The focus is still on raising standards for all pupils. However, the responsibilities associated with this task have become broader and more complex. Interestingly, the revised standards incorporate a domain referring to developing and supporting a self-improving school system. There is an expectation for headteachers to create ‘outward facing schools’ which work with one another to secure excellent achievement for all pupils.

According to the standards, excellent headteachers will also “challenge educational orthodoxies” and use evidence-based research to frame “self-regulating and self-improving schools”. A section of articles from The Key looks into research on effective teaching.

The standards clearly demonstrate the fact that headship has evolved far beyond the business of running an individual school. Increasingly, headteachers are expected to act as central figures within the local community, and to accept the public scrutiny that comes along with this.

A real value of the standards lies in their ability to inform the professional development priorities of aspiring and acting headteachers. Commenting on the revised standards, Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) said the standards “will provide a solid foundation for professional development and dialogue”.

The standards are ambitious in scope and aspirational in their wording. Unlike the Teachers’ Standards, the national standards of excellence for headteachers are non-statutory. They are designed to depict excellence and guide good practice - not to be a list of performance descriptors to inform appraisal.

The effectiveness of the standards will depend upon how they are interpreted and applied. Given the current shortage of headteachers, it is important that they act as an incentive rather than a deterrent to headship.

The Key has published a "need-to-know" about the new headteacher standards. Need-to-knows give members of The Key essential, timely updates on important changes and dates.

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