Head teachers are leaders of their schools, and create suitable conditions for children and staff.

What does a head teacher do?

In a typical role a head teacher is likely to:

  • work with the governing body to decide the school’s values, making these known to pupils, staff, parents and the wider community
  • make staff aware of key priorities, giving tasks to teams and individuals with instructions to evaluate and review
  • set high expectations of learning and achievement for staff and pupils
  • use data to track performance against targets and challenge poor results
  • make sure parents and pupils are informed about progress and how they can support improvement
  • use the school to pull together the local community, working with others to increase learning opportunities
  • create a healthy and safe space for learning, promoting equal opportunities and respect for difference
  • select, support, assess and develop staff
  • lead and attend meetings, inside and outside of school
  • review your practice and seek support from others
  • control school finances in line with funding regulations
  • be accountable for every way in which the school is managed

What do I need to do to become a head teacher?

To become a head teacher you would first of all train as a teacher. For this you’d need a minimum of five GCSEs, including English and maths (plus science for primary teaching). You’d follow these with A levels or equivalent, or an Access to Higher Education course, then a degree. For secondary teaching your degree would need to be relevant to the subject you want to teach.

You could either study for a degree and complete your initial teacher training (ITT) at the same time, gaining qualified teacher status (QTS), or you could study from a range of degrees and follow on with QTS training. Studying full-time, either route would usually take four years. You could teach in independent schools, academies and free schools in England without QTS, but it's a definite advantage to have it.

Before applying for teacher training, you’d also need some experience of working with young people in schools, for example, through paid work, volunteering, or work experience.

If you do ITT training after a degree, there are two main options:

  • university-led training – gaining a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) or professional graduate diploma in education (PGDE) alongside QTS
  • school-led training – a choice between School Direct, School Direct (salaried), School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) and Teach First. Some may also lead to a PGCE award alongside QTS

There’s an alternative route to QTS if you’re a non-graduate leaving the armed forces with some prior qualifications and experience of delivering training.

As an applicant for ITT, you’d need to pass professional skills tests in literacy and numeracy before starting your course.

You will also need to pass background checks done by the Disclosure and Barring Service.

Related skills

  • Communication
  • Interpersonal skills
  • IT
  • Leadership
  • Numeracy
  • Organisation
  • Patience
  • Time management

Academic route

  • Five GCSEs, including English and maths (plus science for primary teaching)
  • A levels or equivalent, or an Access to Higher Education

Essential qualifications

  • For secondary teaching, a degree in the subject you want to teach
  • Qualified Teacher Status (QTS)

Where to find out more

Where could I be working?

Head teachers work in a wide variety of schools. The schools may be different in size, age of pupils, culture, facilities and type of catchment area.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

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