A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Recruit a New Headteacher

In the dynamic landscape of education, recruiting a new headteacher is a pivotal task for school governing bodies. This comprehensive guide explores the strategic steps involved in this crucial process. From understanding the significance to making informed decisions, it provides insights, tools, and practical advice to ensure the selection of a headteacher who will shape a school's culture and drive its success. Discover the nuances of headteacher recruitment with Juniper Education's dedicated team of education HR specialists, offering valuable resources to guide you in finding your school's next visionary leader. 

Recruiting a new headteacher is a monumental task that significantly impacts the success of a school or academy trust. The process demands careful planning, attention to detail, and a clear understanding of the school’s future needs.  

This comprehensive guide, written by our dedicated team of education HR experts, will examine how to recruit a new headteacher successfully. It will walk through the essential steps to finding the right candidate, highlight potential challenges the board faces, and equip school governing bodies with the necessary tools and insights to navigate and make this crucial decision. 

The Importance of Headteacher Recruitment 

Recruiting a headteacher is one of the board's most vital responsibilities. Research indicates that school leadership is second only to classroom teaching in influencing pupil learning. Leaders are essential in enhancing teaching and learning by impacting staff motivation, commitment, and working conditions. Understanding that a school's performance rarely surpasses the quality of its leadership emphasises the critical need for effective recruitment processes, as the best leaders have the transformative power to shape a school's culture and outcomes. 

Strategic Considerations for Boards 

When faced with a headteacher vacancy, boards should strategically evaluate the needs and structure of the school. For boards overseeing multiple schools, decisions about recruiting a headteacher require thoughtful consideration. Additionally, schools serving deprived communities face unique challenges in recruitment, demanding heightened awareness from boards to ensure the selection of a candidate aligns with the school's vision.  

Potential Headteacher Recruitment Challenges 

Successfully recruiting an ideal headteacher hinges on professional recruitment practices. In a competitive environment, identifying the best candidate may not be straightforward. The process often demands considerable time and resources. Boards must establish effective recruitment processes to attract and confidently appoint skilled candidates suited to their school. Being well-prepared is crucial, enabling a prompt initiation of the recruitment process when a headteacher vacancy arises while also allowing sufficient time for making the right appointment decision. 

Successfully Recruit a Headteacher in 8 Steps 

  1. Understanding the Significance

Before delving into the recruitment process, it's essential for school governing bodies to grasp the significance of this task, which is not to be taken lightly. The headteacher plays a key role in shaping the school's culture, vision, and strategic direction. A successful recruitment ensures the seamless transition of leadership, safeguarding the school’s ethos. 

  1. Formulating a Selection Panel

Establishing a selection panel is the first step in any school leadership recruitment process. In maintained schools, a minimum of three governors should be part of this panel, striking a balance between skills and focus. While there is no strict limit, a panel of around five governors is recommended. It's crucial to include members who have undergone safer recruitment training. In academies, similar principles apply, even though the same regulations do not bind them. 

  1. Defining the Role

A clear and comprehensive headteacher job description and person specification are the foundation of a successful recruitment process. Rather than replicating the previous headteacher's role, these documents should align with the school's strategic vision. Consider the qualifications, experience, and skills required for the school’s future needs. 

  1. Strategic Advertising

Creating an effective advertisement is also key to attracting the right candidates. Timeliness is critical; consider the resignation deadlines for serving headteachers. While there are limited cases where a school can appoint without advertising, this should be avoided unless justified. The advertisement should outline the role's requirements and showcase the school or trust to potential candidates. 

  1. Streamlined Shortlisting Process

Shortlisting is where the recruitment takes a focused turn. Ensure that good candidates are not overlooked and time is not wasted on applicants who do not meet essential criteria. References should be diligently taken up and cross-checked to validate the shortlisted candidates' credibility before proceeding to the next stage. 

  1. Thoughtful Interview Planning

Planning the interview process is a collaborative effort that may involve input from HR advisers and other senior leaders. Be upfront with candidates about any tasks they will perform during the interview day or prior. Candidates could be tested through presentations, interacting with pupils in the classroom, or leading an assembly. Core questions, aligned with the person specification, should be prepared in advance to maintain fairness between candidates. 

  1. Making the Decision

After the interviews are conducted, each panel member should independently score the candidates. These scores form the basis for decision-making. In most cases, the governing board needs to ratify the appointment before making a formal offer to the successful candidate. It's best practice to contact the successful candidate on the same day as the interviews and inform unsuccessful candidates after the role has been accepted. 

  1. What if the Candidates Aren’t Suitable? 

If none of the candidates proves suitable, it's important to recognise this outcome. Instead of settling for an unfit candidate, be prepared to restart the recruitment process. This may be disheartening, but it's essential for the school's long-term success. 


Recruiting a new headteacher is a multifaceted process that demands careful consideration and strategic planning. The right headteacher is not just a leader; they are a driving force propelling the school towards a prosperous future. 

Our strengths equal your success 

Juniper Education’s dedicated education HR specialists have helped schools like yours successfully recruit headteachers.

We've also created free downloadable resources to help you find your next headteacher, including:

Headteacher job description template 

School leadership recruitment checklist