Ask Brenda: A to-do list for new headteachers

Written by: HTU | Published:

QUESTION: Where do I start as a new headteacher? What is critical and essential in your opinion? What questions do I ask of myself and of others?

QUESTION: Where do I start as a new headteacher? What is critical and essential in your opinion? What questions do I ask of myself and of others?

ANSWER: There is no golden list of dos and don’ts for a new headteacher, but there are some basic reminders that can help you to hit the ground running

Most new heads that I meet ask me whether there is some form of list to guide them, so that they know what things are statutory and therefore essential, and what things are not required in law, but would still be a good idea to include in their thinking as they begin at their school.

The difficulty with this is that things change so rapidly in education. As such, my best advice is always to keep an eye on the Department for Education (DfE) website and on the training and resources offered by your union, as this often helps to point the way with the statutory.

Furthermore, talk to other headteachers, read magazines like Headteacher Update to pick up the next great idea. Perhaps think about The Key, a website where heads can ask questions about pretty much anything. However, if it is a list you’d like, then if I was starting at a new school I would check the following:

  • The DfE website to seek out any new guidance which is statutory.
  • The school’s own website to ensure that it is compliant with new DfE requirements and tells the “story” that you wish it to about the school. Add your own personal welcome and message.
  • The school prospectus – does it need reviewing?
  • Is classroom management and organisation consistent throughout the school? 
  • Are resources easily accessible for all pupils? 
  • Are displays linked with resource areas so that children know where to go to access appropriate resources? 
  • Planning: is it consistent with the school policy? All staff should be planning in a similar manner so that there is not an ad hoc approach which does not show differentiation/IT where applicable/where teaching assistant support is to be used, and so on.
  • Who will be monitoring the weekly planning? Will you check this regularly? Are you delegating this? Are staff aware of this and your expectations?
  • What is your policy on subject teaching and/or cross-curricular teaching? Unless this is clear some teachers may teach using a cross-curricular creative curriculum while others will teach subjects. To be an exemplar of good practice there needs to be a school policy to decide what is being taught and how.
  • Assessment: what will your policy be? Many schools now maintain evidence folders for each child in all subjects to show their levels through the year. Can subject leaders monitor this?
  • Are all staff clear about the marking policy you intend to use and the need for regular formative marking in all books?
  • Inclusion and SEN: what interventions are needed? For how many children in each category? What impact are you seeking? 
  • How are you currently using extra funding for pupils (Pupil Premium)? Is this to continue in a similar manner?
  • Child protection: I recommend that all headteachers are fully trained.
  • Policy documents: will you ask at the beginning of term for policies to be updated ready for co-ordinators to share verbally with all staff?
  • Could co-ordinators select two key things that they want all staff to focus on? This can then have one point added which is pertinent to all subjects such as literacy, which I would suggest must be a focus in every curriculum area. How can they show this?
  • Remember that in the staff meeting at the beginning of each school year the legalities need to be satisfied and all staff should be reminded of safeguarding and whistle-blowing procedures (have this minuted).
  • Are there any specific curriculum areas that you think need an external trainer for staff to be “good”? Identify these early and book a suitable trainer so that staff and inspectors can see that you are dealing with curriculum and staff needs.
  • Performance management: every NQT should already have targets identified at the end of their NQT year which should form the basis of their performance management targets, but have all other staff had targets set and have you identified what these are and what support they may need? 
  • I would suggest that at least one target for all staff needs to be SMART  (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) and therefore measurable in data, possibly based on the cohort they will be working with in September and your expectation of progress. How many points or sub-levels would you expect each child to progress during the year?
  • I advise that each staff member keeps a portfolio of evidence against their three/four targets which must be reviewed with them at each pupil progress meeting and be minuted, as this gives rigour in pupil progress and performance management.
  • Monitor and undertake observations with your senior leadership team so that you know what your teachers can/can’t do. 
  • Is your use of ICT embedded and is it used effectively to enhance learning and to add pace and challenge? Could this be a part of observations?
  • Put together a timetable for staff training/meetings through the first term at least. What are your priorities for next year? Plan ahead and timetable what the staff training session will cover.
  • Are assembly rotas and playground cover rotas in place?
  • Behaviour: is the current strategy working? If there are “holes” in the system, how are you going to address this and has it been communicated to all staff, including teaching assistants, dinner supervisors and admin. If you are not all singing from the same song sheet your discipline policy is likely to have flaws.
  • Uniform: does that need reiterating? Your expectation as regards standards of attire/shoes/ haircuts and so on for children
  • Is it essential to have a staff handbook with all the above highlighted so that all staff have a guide on the systems and strategies you would want used in school? This may also include sections on working with parents, a code of conduct, medication for children, collecting money and more.

I am sure that many headteachers will be able to add to this list, but it is a good place to start! I wish you every success.


  • Brenda Bigland CBE is an education consultant, trainer and coach and a former primary school headteacher. Visit


  • For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

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