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Appointing Headteachers & Deputy Headteachers. The Legal Framework The governing bodies of all schools must notify the local education authority before taking steps to fill a headteacher vacancy.

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The Legal Framework

The governing bodies of all schools must notify the local education authority before taking steps to fill a headteacher vacancy.

The statutory position relating to headteacher and deputy headteacher appointments is defined by the School Standards and Framework Act, 1998.

Governors should be aware of anti-discrimination legislation and their own equality policies when undertaking recruitment processes. Recruitment and appointment procedures can be the subject of complaints to an employment tribunal or the courts of law on the basis of discrimination or breach of equal opportunity legislation. It should be noted that the governing body would be the respondent to any complaint made against an appointment process.


Headteacher vacancies must be nationally advertised. The publication used to comply with this requirement is commonly the ‘Times Educational Supplement’. Governors may, additionally, choose to advertise vacancies in other publications, e.g. Golwg, Education Guardian, Western Mail, Y Cymro.

Should the governing body decide to appoint a selection panel to shortlist and interview suitable applicants it must comprise at least three of its members, and must be appointed by at least two-thirds of the governing body. The selection panel must make a recommendation to full governing body and cannot appoint a candidate without adhering to this procedure. The panel may comprise all governors if the governing body so wish and this is the usual practice within the LEA.

If the panel cannot recommend an applicant, the governing body may re-advertise the vacancy.

If the panel recommends an applicant, the governing body must consider the selection panel recommendation. If the governing body does not approve the recommendation, it may ask the panel to make another recommendation (from the candidates who applied for the post), or may decide to re-advertise the vacancy and appoint a new panel to conduct interviews and provide a further recommendation.


If the governing body approves the panel’s recommendation, the governing body must present the recommendation to the LEA, who must appoint the person recommended if (s)he meets the normal requirements. If (s)he does not, the governing body would need to repeat the process of selecting an appropriate candidate.

The ultimate responsibility for the selection decision rests with the governing body and it is a decision that cannot be delegated. This means that any recommendation for appointment made by a selection panel acting on behalf of the governing body has to be confirmed by the whole governing body before the appointment can be ratified.

In highly unusual circumstances it is possible for governors to appoint a candidate against the advice of the Group Director or his/her representative. The LEA can only intervene to stop this if it can be shown that the candidate does not have the fitness or qualifications to perform the role. Where a governing body appoints a candidate contrary to the Group Director’s advice, the LEA’s position will be recorded formally, in writing, to the Chair of Governors.


Responsibilities of the Group Director

The statutory responsibilities of the Group Director are defined by the School Standards and Framework Act, and include, for all schools, making written representations to the governors’ selection panel if any shortlisted applicants are considered to be unsuitable for appointment. These responsibilities are reinforced in paragraphs 84-97 of the “Code of Practice of LEA School Relations”.

In addition, the Group Director, or his representative, is responsible for ensuring that governors are fully engaged with the process and take appropriate decisions at each stage.


Support Offered by the Local Education Authority

Administrative Support

LEA officers will ensure that governors receive clear information on their responsibilities in respect of headteacher or deputy headteacher appointments, with particular reference to the need to meet strict deadlines, manage the legally prescribed processes and procedures and maintain confidentiality.

Governor Training

At the time of a vacancy arising, governing bodies should contact the Governor Support Unit, in order to arrange a school-based training session addressing the appointment of headteachers and deputy headteachers, which would help governors to focus specifically on the forthcoming appointment process.

Selection Support

Significant support is available for the selection process, including advice on the nature of the process and draft samples of questions the governors may wish to consider. The Group Director or his/her representative will also provide a governing body with professional advice on how candidates have performed during the selection process.


Conducting a Headteacher/Deputy Headteacher Appointment

Timescales for Appointment

The appointment process is likely to take up to three months to complete, and will involve a considerable amount of input from governors and LEA officers. Headteacher resignations have to be received by:

31st January (for a summer term start);

30th April (autumn term start);

30th September (spring term start).

The equivalent dates for a deputy head or main scale teacher are 28th February, 31st May and 31st October.


It follows that for the autumn term appointment of an existing headteacher, the process operates within a very tight schedule and needs to have started, ideally by the beginning of February. Similarly, for a summer term appointment, the process should start by the beginning of November. For a spring term appointment, the process will, ideally, need to have started and concluded during the preceding summer term (experience has proved that this is unlikely to be the case, and that attempts to operate a compressed timetable during the autumn term are more likely).

At the outset, the governing body will need to agree the key dates for:

  • the production of a draft job description (based on an assessment of the school’s needs);
  • drafting a person specification;
  • preparing a draft job advertisement;
  • agreeing an advertisement, job description, person specification and advertising date;
  • the completion of an applicants’ pack and agreeing a closing date for applications;
  • appropriate governor training arrangements;
  • shortlisting and planning the interviews and other selection procedures;
  • the selection day(s) & governor ratification meeting.

Initial Meeting with Chair of Governors

It is important for an officer of the LEA to discuss with the Chair of Governors at the earliest opportunity so that the officer can offer advice on the recruitment process, in preparation for the first full governors’ meeting.

Role of Existing headteacher

The fundamental point to remember is that the existing headteacher is precluded from attending any proceedings of the governing body, or selection panel, which relate to the appointment of the succeeding headteacher.

Governors may need the outgoing headteacher’s assistance concerning the supply of factual material, e.g. for the advertisement or the job description, but cannot look to him or her for advice which affects the selection of a successor, since (s)he will have no responsibility for dealing with its consequences, and may be placed in an unfair position if there was an internal candidate.


Selecting and Appointing the Best Candidate

In order to comply with the law and to ensure the recruitment of the best candidate when making and processing the final selection, the selection panel should:

  • make the decision solely on evidence collated, the criteria defined in the person specification and the needs of the job;
  • ensure that a brief written assessment of each interviewed candidate is kept with the candidate’s details for at least six months after the appointment is made. If a rejected candidate makes a formal complaint about unlawful discrimination, the Employment Tribunal will ask for such assessments;
  • ensure that a candidate is not rejected solely because of the panel’s assumption that the candidate’s prospective work colleagues may resent the individual on the grounds of gender, disability or ethnic origin, or on other generalised grounds.

No applicant should be rejected for any reason other than his/her assessed ability or willingness, relative to the other candidates, to carry out the job description and meet the requirements described in the person specification.

So far as the law is concerned, the panel acts as ‘the employer’ and its actions and decisions can commit the school and the County Council contractually, and be challenged in some respects through complaints to Employment Tribunals.

Contractually, the verbal offer of a job and its acceptance by the successful candidate constitute a binding contract of employment. Subsequent documentation merely confirms this contract.

Too casual a verbal agreement with the successful candidate about terms (e.g. salary starting point) can therefore cause major problems if, on reflection, it is felt that different terms are appropriate.

Even worse is to make a verbal offer of employment which is accepted, only to reverse this decision and then send a rejection letter. In such cases, the candidate will be able to pursue a claim for breach of contract.


Preparing the Advertisement

Vacant posts for headteachers and deputy headteachers must be advertised throughout England and Wales. To achieve this requirement, posts are normally advertised in the ‘Times Educational Supplement’. Governing Bodies can decide to use other periodicals and the post will also be advertised throughout the council’s schools in the teaching vacancy circular.

The advertisement needs to convey the school’s character and ethos of the school, the overall scope of the post and the main qualities and experience looked for in the successful applicant. LEA officers will be able to offer advice on some of the technical issues.


The advertisement should include:

  • Name of the school and size and number on roll.
  • The school group.
  • The individual school range (ISR).
  • The start date.
  • Qualifications/experience required.
  • The procedure for applying.
  • From whom to request applications (with full address).
  • The name of someone from whom further information is available (this should not be anyone involved in the selection process).
  • Closing date (should be at least 2 weeks after publication), date for shortlisting and selection date(s).
  • Equal opportunities statement

Advertisments should be with the Personnel section by 9.00 a.m. on the day of the appropriate newspaper or journal’s deadline for publication.

Examples of advertisements can be accessed from ‘The Times Educational Supplement’. Advice is also available from LEA officers.


Information pack to candidates

Include relevant documentation that provides a picture of the school along with:

  • a letter from the Chair of Governors – showing name, address & telephone number and thanking potential applicants for their interest;
  • job description;
  • person specification;
  • school prospectus;
  • summary Estyn report
  • Shortlisted candidates could also be sent:
  • school action plan;
  • the governors’ last Annual Report to Parents;
  • assessment results and data;
  • school targets;
  • summary of school development plan;
  • financial summary.

Job Description and Person Specification

Governors will need to agree a job description and person specification for their own headteacher. These will identify the particular characteristics and qualities that they are looking for from their new headteacher. They will be used throughout the selection process as a definition of the criteria against which candidates will be assessed, and as such will determine the selection methods to be used. They will serve as the basis on which final decisions are made and will subsequently inform the planning of the induction and development programme for the successful candidate.

The job description must reflect both the requirements and the duties defined in the current statutory School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document as well as the particular needs of the school. The job description should indicate the extent that the successful candidate will be expected or required to teach. The job description must not contravene the law on equal opportunities.

The person specification should detail the knowledge, skills and attributes necessary to fulfil the job description. It will be informed by the core purpose and key areas of headship as defined by the national standards for headteachers and reflect the governors’ decisions about the key tasks and priorities of their own school at that particular time.


Each criterion should be clear and specific enough for the panel to be able to assess whether a candidate meets it. The requirements should not be so numerous or stringent that no single candidate could meet them and the specification should distinguish between essential requirements and those that are desirable.

It is important that the whole governing body shares these decisions and forms a common understanding of the key requirements of the post. Initial discussions should take place at the first whole governing body meeting where a representative of the LEA will be in attendance to facilitate the discussion. In most instances however, due to time constraints and the fundamental importance of the task, governors may wish to continue the discussion at a second whole governing body meeting.


Sources of Information and Background Reading

School Governors: A Guide to the Law (National Assembly for Wales) – (Staffing)

School Teachers’ Pay & Conditions Document: ‘Conditions of Employment of Headteachers’

The Education (School Government) (Wales) Regulations

The National Standards for Headteachers (Teacher Training Agency)