Headteacher Standards 2020: Reflections on Section 1

Helen Frostick, National Leader of Education and Educational Consultant, offers reflections on Section 1 of the recently updated National Standards of Excellence for Headteachers, published in Autumn 2020.

Helen will be co-facilitating the IG Schools online training day taking place on February 23rd 2021, Implementing the 2020 Headteacher Standards in Your School.


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, leading their schools through a global pandemic. 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.

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 were added and revised in Autumn 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.

Current Context

Education is at the forefront of the Government’s response to tackling COVID-19 and it is an interesting time to reflect on how additional leadership responsibilities have arisen from leading and managing schools at this unprecedented time of the worldwide pandemic.

The standards are split into two; firstly, Ethics and Professional Standards and secondly, Headteacher Standards. The standards cover the full breadth of leadership responsibilities, as well as being a reminder of the need to meet the teachers’ standards and the additional responsibilities of headteachers therein. In this blog the focus is on section 1 and the parallels in the leadership of schools at this time.

Section 1

The ethics and professional standards haven’t changed and are standards attributable to all who are serving in public life, detailing behaviour and attitudes expected throughout. 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 31st May 1995 by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Here they are detailed specifically in relation to headteachers and school leaders:

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

Reflecting on this attribute, 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.

  • Integrity: School and college 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.

In terms of integrity the Headteacher and Governing Body relationship will be central to ensuring that conflicts of interests do not occur.

  • Objectivity: School and college 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.

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. Also, to work out a sustained response to best meet their needs. Many leaders will choose objectively to align the pupil premium strategy and corresponding funding to a sustained response to ensure that the chosen approaches to plugging the attainment gap arising have impact.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published a useful resource for schools addressing this area: EEF COVID-19 support guide for schools.

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

Schools have successfully opened up fully, but with careful and considered plans to maximise safety. The plans in place, made public by school and college leaders, evidence a school’s requirement to be accountable for the tough decisions made. By now, most schools will have had to fully or partially close down again. The decision to do so cannot be taken lightly by leaders and the rationale needs to be clear.

  • Openness: School and college 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.

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 this attribute.

  • Honesty: School and college leaders should be truthful.

An example of this will be seen in transparency as to how the Government Grant to support those pupils most adversely affected by COVID-19 is spent.

  • Leadership: School and college 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 will be evident in the support of great teaching now 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 bi-product of the pandemic, whereby at times home on-line learning is blended with learning in 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. Leaders will already have been shown to be making such adjustments through how they have organised induction, parents’ meetings and tours for prospective parents remotely, such as by creating a bespoke website for induction and videos of the teachers welcoming their new pupils. Secondary schools demonstrated this well in Richmond-Upon-Thames with many well thought out transition events.

Going forward, Oak National Academy is continuing its work to support families and schools with a comprehensive curriculum.

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.


Learn more about the forthcoming online interactive training day, where Helen will be joined by Malcolm Trobe, Chair of the Department for Education Headteacher Standards Review Team, and Professor Qing Gu, Director of the UCL Centre for Leadership in Learning:

Implementing the 2020 Headteacher Standards in Your School


Further advice and guidance is available in our IG Schools Governance and Leadership Handbook, available to download for free now.

Governance and Leadership Handbook