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Interim headship

Image by Nick Morrison

Schools seek interim Heads for a variety of reasons. They may face the sudden departure of a leader due to ill health or accident; the Head may have decided to resign at short notice or the governing body may have decided to dismiss them. There may be a hiatus between the Head leaving and the new one starting for contractual reasons.   In such circumstances a Head will be needed at short notice, for a limited period and it is the responsibility of the governors to resolve the problem.


Boards may be tempted to temporarily promote one of the senior team to the role of interim head. This person will be known to the school, have some senior leadership experience and likely to be willing to accept the role. My experience is that the decision to do this is not without numerous problems including the following:

  • The elevation will create a significant gap elsewhere in the school's organisational structure.

  • It is likely that some or all strategic plans will go on hold while the SLT member is in charge. This is risky in a dynamic, competitive marketplace.

  • The temporary post holder may find the role highly challenging and stressful.  

  • The relationship dynamics within the leadership team will be changed and it is possible that not everyone will support the temporary elevation.

Typically, an interim Head will be expected to work with the governing body, senior leadership team and school staff and provide overall strategic leadership for the school. Responsibilities are likely to include:

  • Demonstrating and delivering the vision, inspiration and initiative to create a climate where the school flourishes.

  • Leading, developing and supporting the direction, vision, values and priorities of the school.

  • Evaluating, developing (where necessary) and implementing school policies, practices and procedures.

  • Leading the teaching and learning throughout the school.

  • Liaising with governors to ensure clear accountability and appropriate challenge.

  • Overseeing school self-evaluation that appropriately informs school improvement planning.

  • Be responsible and accountable for safeguarding and the promotion of pupil welfare.

Recruitment consultants familiar with finding interim heads say that school governors typically want an interim for one of two main reasons. They may want a Head to lead in a period pf change - someone to galvanise a team, drive through rapid improvement and deliver results. Or they may want somebody to act almost as a caretaker - make sure that all the key leadership functions are undertaken but nothing of significance is changed. So much depends on the state of the school at the time of interim, the reasons for the last Head’s departure and the vision for the school in the years ahead.   Clarity at board level prior to the appointment of an interim is vital.​

A good and successful interim Head will:

  • Adapt quickly to the schools’ character and culture.

  • Listen, learn and accept help.

  • Move the school forward to the extent required by governors.

  • Provide experienced decision making that is focused on current needs and existing strategy. 

  • Rebuild trust if it has been lost.

  • Remains neutral to any existing interna disputes and faction.

  • Take control gently and make it clear the buck stops with them.


Having taken on intreim headships in both the state and independet sectors I am very familar with the challeneges and opportunities provide by the role.

For a confidetial discussion about an interim role please get in touch via the contact page or the chat button.

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