The revised Headteachers' Standards: An overview

Written by: Helen Frostick | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The Headteachers’ Standards have recently been updated. National Leader of Education Helen Frostick reflects on the revisions and how the standards apply to leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic

The National Standards for School Leaders had been in place since 2015 and were originally written in 2004. However, recently they were subject to review by a commissioned panel. Additional attributes have been added and others revised. The renewed document was published in October (DfE, 2020).

The new standards recognise the high expectations of parents and the wider public and how headteachers can meet them. Although non-statutory, the standards form an important benchmark, not only for headteachers and those who hold headteachers to account, but also for those who train, develop and recruit them.

Education, we are told, is at the forefront of the government’s response to Covid-19 and it is an interesting time to reflect on how additional leadership responsibilities have arisen from leading and managing schools at this time of pandemic.

The revised standards

The standards are split in two. First we have, Ethics and Professional Standards; second comes the Headteachers’ Standards.

The standards cover the full breadth of leadership responsibilities as well as being a reminder of the need for school leaders to also meet the Teachers’ Standards (DfE, 2011) and the additional responsibilities of headteachers therein.

Section 1

The Ethics and Professional Standards have not changed and are standards attributable to all who are serving in public, detailing the behaviour and attitudes expected. They are known as the Nolan Principles and form the basis of the ethical standards expected of all in public office. They are taken from the Seven Principles of Public Life, published in 1995 by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Here they are detailed specifically in relation to headteachers and school leaders:

Selflessness: School leaders should act solely in the interest of children and young people.

Integrity: School leaders must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. Before acting and taking decisions, they must declare and resolve openly any perceived conflict of interest and relationships.

Objectivity: School leaders must act and take decisions impartially and fairly, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias. Leaders should be dispassionate, exercising judgement and analysis for the good of children and young people.

Accountability: School leaders are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

Openness: School leaders should expect to act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from scrutiny unless there are clear and lawful reasons for doing so.

Honesty: School leaders should be truthful.

Leadership: School leaders should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs. Leaders include those who are paid to lead schools and colleges and those who volunteer to govern them.

Leadership and Covid-19

Reflecting on these attributes, selflessness will be evidenced at this time by leaders putting themselves at personal risk of contracting the coronavirus by working on the front line and doing their best to keep their schools open.

In terms of integrity, the headteacher and governing body relationship will be central to ensuring that conflicts of interests do not occur.

Objectivity will be at the heart of leadership in the Covid-19 era. School leaders are best placed to understand the needs of their school communities. Professional judgement will be required to identify which pupils and young people have been most adversely affected by Covid-19 and to work out a sustained response to best meet their needs.

Under the heading of accountability, risk assessments and the strategy for narrowing the gap will be published on the school website and ratified by the governing body and local authority. The openness that this entails sits well within the list of attributes.

Leadership will be evident in the support of great teaching now that schools are, in the main, fully up and running. This will include providing opportunities for professional development, e.g. to support curriculum planning and training on the focused, effective use of technology. Blended learning has been a by-product of the pandemic and has become a priority area for development in many schools.

There will be the need to show strong leadership in the organisational and logistical adjustments to enable schools to stay open safely and effectively.

These are unprecedented times in education and never has there been such an opportunity for school and college leaders, including governors, to further develop the attributes and characteristics of great leaders. Indeed, SecEd’s recent focus on the attributes of ethical leaders – and the need now more than ever for ethical leadership in our schools – is worth reading in this context (Bromley, 2020).

Section 2

In section 2 there are now 10 standards, six of which are developed from Part 2 of the 2011 Teachers’ Standards, with four focusing on leadership responsibilities specific to headteachers. These replace the four domains in the 2015 version of this document. So we are moving from Qualities and knowledge, Pupils and staff, Systems and process, and The self-improving school to:

  • School culture (builds on Teachers’ Standards 1)
  • Teaching (builds on Teachers’ Standards 2 & 4)
  • Curriculum and assessment (build on Teachers’ Standards 3 & 4)
  • Behaviour (builds on Teachers’ Standards 5 & 7)
  • Additional and special educational needs (build on Teachers’ Standards 4 & 5)
  • Professional development (some match to those found in the Teachers’ Standards)
  • Organisational management
  • School improvement
  • Working in partnership
  • Governance and accountability

Headteachers have always had a very important role. But, at no other time in the recent history of education have headteachers been so called upon to live up to the standards expected of them.

The revised standards recognise that at the core, headteachers are teachers, called upon to determine the achievements of the whole school. This is within the context of ethical attributes which form the blueprint of their responsibilities as leaders of future generations of pupils and the staff who teach them.

  • Helen Frostick is a National Leader of Education, educational consultant, inspector, public speaker and author. She recently retired from her role as headteacher of St Mary Magdalen’s Catholic Primary School in south London. To read her previous articles for SecEd's sister magazine Headteacher Update, visit

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