Further Education heads are driven pedagogues, who live and breathe education, understand the importance of strong leadership and have the operational qualities and experience to further develop places of learning that are full of exciting potential.
They have the passion and determination to provide strategic leadership to ensure outstanding pastoral support with an unrelenting focus on each student maximising their potential.
They also feel motivated, anxious, humbled and challenged with the awesome privilege of taking responsibility for enabling a community to continue its journey of improvement.
Does this sound like you?
If you currently occupy a leadership position and you are looking to further your career, then you might have your sights set on changing your professional identity and being a Principal. If you have the skills, ambition and a proven track record but feel like your potential is still untapped then this is the route to take.
Heading up a college, specialism school or sixth form gives you the opportunity to build on your experience of management and senior leadership and do what all teachers enter the profession to do: make a difference.
Can you demonstrate emotional intelligence, self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management? If you don’t, can you adopt the persona? How aspiring leaders perceive themselves can impact how they play out the role.
Yes, you are a forward-thinker with a high level of data fluency and great planning skills but you know the key to success is born out of higher order interpersonal skills, relationship building and galvanising the hearts and minds of a diverse population toward clear aims through actions for improvement.
Inspiring discretionary effort is your forte and you know that good leadership is 10 per cent action and 90 per cent communication.
You might be wondering whether becoming a Principal is really for you. Some places definitely won’t be for you and this will be like trying to force a jigsaw piece into a position that doesn’t go. Yet there will be a place that ‘speaks’ to you and the right job is there.
Getting the right fit is essential and so if you are thinking of making a move upwards then consider the following 5 tips for making the switch:
You’ve seen an advert and the blurb sounds amazing but delve deeper, do your research and find out more about the place.
Is this the sort of institution that mirrors your educational principles, values and vision for inclusivity and rigorous standards? What will you inherit and can you develop as a leader there? If you are getting a good feeling then as an absolute minimum make a visit and do the ‘touch test’, get a feel and go with your instincts.
If you see a position that has your name written all over it, hold your horses and look carefully at what the college needs compared to what you can offer. If you can meet the requirements then go above and beyond by listing you potential and ambitions for making positive changes and communicate the impact you can make given the opportunity and the right degree of support and challenge.
Don’t turn away as not many places will be expecting an all-singing and all-dancing force of nature that can sweep everyone off their feet. Be honest and open about the areas you are still developing, show fortitude, responsiveness and a resolve to heed, reflect and learn. No one is the finished article – ever. The basis of a strong headship involves strong vision and values, honesty, a promise to working hard and growth, and the capability to shape your resilience over time.
4. The 4 Hs
If you have the 4Hs then you are definitely a successful leader who can make the transition. Ex-head Dr John Dunford described these four aspects as being: hope, humanity, humility and humour. He says that all leaders should practise the first three but the sine qua non of headship is humour. If you have the 4Hs then headship needs you.
If you are thinking about stepping up to the plate then ask yourself whether you are a change-agent. Effective leaders recognise the need for change and identify causes of, and solutions to, problems. Can you use your knowledge and understanding to create the culture and conditions needed to be successful, and engage the people in and around the organisation in your vision?
6. Forget the neg-heads
Many will try to convince you that you shouldn’t touch a college Headship with a barge pole yet despite the obvious scope and weight of your responsibilities, there are many doing the job that say the good days outweigh the bad and there are more life-affirming experiences than negative ones. Most FE leaders would choose the role again if given the chance.
Excellent college leaders are fundamental to a high-quality education system and the profession needs strong and willing candidates like you at the helm.
It’s worth remembering too that there is no single way of starting a new Principalship. Yes you might have teaching experience, training in leadership and management and an MBA in business studies but that doesn’t mean you will be a college leader. Although the ‘chief executive’ part of the job requires a business brain the most crucial part of the job comes down to people skills.
The Association of Colleges offers three training and development programmes designed for each stage of college management including Entry to Management.
About the author
John is an ex-primary school teacher and Ofsted inspector who has spent the last 20 years working in the education industry as a teacher, writer and editor. John’s specialist area is primary maths but he also loves teaching science and English. John has written a number of educational and children’s books, and contributed over 1,000 articles and features to various educational bodies. John is eTeach’s school leadership and Ofsted advice guru, sharing insights on best practice for motivating and enriching a school team, as well as sharing savvy career steps for headteachers and SLT.