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Alternative jobs for headteachers – What opportunities are there?

August 20, 2023, 15:29 GMT+1
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  • Three former heads tell us how they went from being the leader of their school to embracing the opportunities and experiences afforded by what came next...
Alternative jobs for headteachers – What opportunities are there?

From addressing conferences, to authoring your first book and setting yourself up as an advisor or consultant, there are plenty of avenues to pursue when it comes to alternative jobs for headteachers.

After all, if you’re a successful head with years of experience under your belt, you’ll have picked up a fair amount of knowledge and wisdom that your peers may well appreciate hearing.

Here, three former heads tell us where their career path beyond the school gates ended up taking them.

Alternative jobs for headteachers

James Hilton

Spent 23 years in senior leadership positions at schools in around Derbyshire, including two headships; he is now a writer, author and speaker

My first headship was at a school where I’d been deputy. After five years, another headship became available at a school that ultimately grew from around 150 on roll to over 800 by the time I left. It was an exciting environment in lots of ways, though not without its difficulties.

After 10 years there, I left partly to write a book (Leading from the Edge) that I knew I couldn’t really write in post. I wanted to be open and honest about some of the pressures involved with the job and how I’d dealt with them.

I interviewed many other heads in the course of writing it. This meant it wasn’t just ‘my story’, but about how other professionals dealt with the pressures of the job themselves.

Leap of faith

Our kids had just completed university. This relieved quite a lot of financial pressure, so I decided to take a bit of a leap of faith.

People talk publicly about wellbeing much more now than they were five years ago. At the time, I wanted to tell a story around stress management as a sufferer, rather than as someone with a qualification in it. I think that was quite unique.

I managed to get a lucky break when the then NAHT president Bernadette Hunter offered me an opportunity to speak on the topic at a couple of NAHT branch meetings.

The 2015 NAHT conference organisers then invited me to deliver the opening keynote. A lot of work came in off the back of that through recommendations. This was things like other conferences, branch meetings, headteacher working groups and so on.

For others interested in looking at alternative jobs for headteachers, it is scary. For the first six months or so, I’d be looking in the diary and asking myself, ‘What have I done?’ The best advice I can give would be that you need a USP. You need to find an angle, something that’s going to be your particular specialism. Offer to do some free events, maybe an area heads meeting. This will enable you to try out what you want to talk about and get some honest feedback. I ditched quite a lot of stuff fairly early on after I realised it wasn’t working. If you’re looking to make a second career out of this, having that USP is vital.


Jill Berry

Served as headteacher of a 7 to 18 school in Bedford for 10 years; she left headship in 2010 and has spent the years since then supporting educators and schools

I loved headship. It was the most joyful and rewarding of the seven jobs I had in schools over a 30-year period. But 10 years in one school felt like enough for me.

I still found the job satisfying in my tenth year, and believe I continued to be successful, but I wanted a change of direction and a new challenge. A second headship didn’t appeal, so I started thinking about alternative jobs for headteachers.

Having previously completed a Masters degree 15 years into my teaching career, I decided to embark on a professional doctorate. I chose as my research focus the transition from deputy to head, gathering data which I thought could be helpful to aspiring heads and those who select and support them.

I then wrote a book about my research, experiences and wider reading titled Making the Leap – Moving From Deputy to Head, which was published by Crown House in 2016. Building a relationship with educational publishers and those writing books about education, is extremely worthwhile – I’ve been asked to review a number of such books, and it’s been an interesting experience.

Leadership consulting

I subsequently set up in business as a leadership consultant, making the most of the contacts I had from my years in education, and building new contacts over time. Engaging in the world of edu-Twitter, blogging about education (, writing for different educational publications and networking both virtually and at a range of conferences and events has helped me to generate opportunities for leadership development work.

I particularly enjoy working with aspiring middle leaders, senior leaders and heads, helping them to step up to the next level of leadership responsibility with confidence. I’ve written a chapter that looks at this, ‘Get the job you dream of’, for the book 10% Braver, which is edited by #WomenEd’s national leads, Vivienne Porritt and Keziah Featherstone and is due to be published by Sage in February 2019.

There are any number of ways in which experienced heads can contribute to the wider educational community once they’ve left headship – the opportunities on offer are considerable. To all those about to embark on the next stage of their educational adventure, I wish you well!


Viv Grant

Was appointed as one of the youngest primary headteachers in the country and proceeded turn around a failing school in Stockwell, South London. She has since served as a consultant for the National College of Teaching and Leadership and the DfE, and founded the coaching company Integrity Coaching

When I left headship, I went to work at the London Leadership Centre, which at that time was part of the Institute of Education at London University (now UCL). Back then, becoming a coach and setting up my own company wasn’t part of the plan. However, two programmes I tutored on had a profound impact on me, and set me on the path for the work I do now.

NPQH tutor

The first was the National Professional Qualification for Headship. As an NPQH tutor working with aspiring heads, I soon realised that many had the same fears and worries that I had when I was a head. Just like me, they too felt there was no-one impartial who they could to talk to or rely on to listen to them. The result was that they kept their hurts, worries and fears to themselves.

I saw this and thought to myself, ‘This is wrong. This isn’t how we should prepare aspiring leaders for headship. It’s not just about being good at the external stuff – they have to know how to get good at managing all their internal stuff as well.’ At the time, though, I didn’t have any solutions. I just felt there had to be a better way.

I soon found out what this better way was, after I was invited to be a tutor on the London Leadership Challenge’s Mentoring and Coaching Programme. It here that I took my first steps into coaching, and I found the programme to be transformative. It completely changed my understanding of coaching and the role it could play in helping school leaders better manage their internal thoughts, feelings and emotions. I was hooked – this was what I felt I’d needed as a head, and I was now certain this was what all heads needed.

This interest subsequently grew into a passion. That passion developed into a service, which then became a company that’s now Integrity Coaching.