Press release

New research sees rapid growth of Executive Headteachers in England despite undefined remit and responsibilities

8 July 2016

Research by three leading education charities has found that the number of executive headteachers in England is rapidly increasing even though their remit and responsibilities are largely undefined.

The research highlights a spectrum of executive headteachers – often with varied areas of responsibility. This creates challenges across the education system by blurring lines of accountability at executive and governance levels, and potentially confusing the roles and responsibilities between leaders at individual schools and the executive headteacher overseeing them.

In the March White Paper the government stated its desire that all schools become part of a group. With executive headteachers managing on average between three to six schools, the researchers estimate that there may be a demand for between 3200 and 6700 more executive headteachers by 2022. This estimate matches the historic rate of growth – with the number of executive headteachers growing by 240% between 2010 and 2014.

The Future Leaders Trust (TFLT), National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and National Governors’ Association (NGA) today highlight the need for the government to facilitate discussions for a sector-led definition of the role. We also welcome networks and training and development partners devising more formal and informal professional development for those already in post as well as aspirant executive headteachers.

The research also found that women are proportionally under-represented in executive headship compared to the proportion in traditional headship¹ and, separately, that an excellent headteacher may not necessarily be an excellent executive headteacher because the professional skills needed are different.

TFLT, NFER, and NGA set out to clarify the emerging role of executive headteacher, and explore implications for future policy, for good governance and career support.

Carole Willis, Chief Executive of NFER, said: “There is currently little information about the role of executive headteacher, which is concerning given their important and growing role in the self-improving schools system. We want to see more awareness-raising about the role and training provision put in place for executive heads. We recommend that the government begins collecting relevant data now as part of the existing school workforce census. This will allow the sector to create the structures that will support our new executive heads in the vital role of school improvement. More research will also be needed into the effectiveness and impact of executive headteachers alongside other governance models.”

Jacqueline Russell, Acting CEO of The Future Leaders Trust, said: “The report’s findings about the future of executive headship show that we need to be developing a pipeline for this vital role. Even more leaders, some developed by The Future Leaders Trust, are stepping up to executive headship and we hope to be able to support them with a forthcoming programme, helping them to maximize their impact as they lead multiple schools. The Trust has supported 19 people who have reached executive headship and we expect to see more join them where they will all have a positive impact on many thousands of children.”

Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governors’ Association, said: “This research has provided some much-needed information about executive heads, but the variations in practice suggest that in some cases there has not been enough clarity in the thinking about the role or the skills required to undertake it well. Some remain as headteachers of at least one school, while others do not. The governing board appoints the headteacher of a standalone school and the lead executive (an executive head or a chief executive) of a group of schools. This needs to be done in the context of the full senior leadership structure. Executive headships are well-paid posts and we must not risk building into staffing structures duplication or other inefficiencies when schools are so short of funds.”

The report is the result of longitudinal analysis of the school workforce census over a period of five years (from 2010 to 2014); over 30 interviews with executive headteachers, senior leaders and governors; and a desktop review of 30 headteacher and executive headteacher job application packs.

The research can be found at /EXEC01

¹ In 2014 56% of executive headteachers were female compared to 66% of traditional headteachers.


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Notes to editors:

The Future Leaders Trust offers training and development programmes for heads and aspiring head teachers, with a variety of programmes including the Talented Leader programme for schools in coastal, rural and disadvantaged areas. It has 1700 leaders working in 1500 schools. Find out more at

NFER is a leading independent provider of rigorous research and insights in education, working to create an excellent education for all children and young people. We are a charity, providing robust and innovative research, assessments and other services that are widely known and used by key decision-makers. @TheNFER

The National Governors’ Association (NGA) is an independent charity representing and supporting governors, trustees and clerks in maintained schools and academies in England. The NGA’s goal is to improve the well-being of children and young people by increasing the effectiveness of governing boards and promoting high standards. It does this by providing information, guidance, research, advice and training. It also works closely with, and lobbies, UK government and educational bodies, and is the campaigning national membership organisation for school governors and trustees.