New headteachers: taking your first steps

Use our checklist to find out what to do before you start, and get guidance on what you should prioritise in the early weeks of headship - so you can confidently hit the ground running in your new headteacher role.

Last reviewed on 19 July 2023
School types: AllSchool phases: AllRef: 32186
  1. Download our checklist to help you take action in advance
  2. Build relationships with your school community 
  3. Avoid making major changes initially
  4. Be proactive and develop your support network
  5. Leadership CPD from The Key

Download our checklist to help you take action in advance

Get to know as much as you can about your school, before you start in post.

This will help you build a picture of where your school is currently, and give you the awareness and understanding you'll need for your early conversations with your school community once you start. 

Use our checklist as a guide. It covers tasks to do:  

  • As soon as you accept the post
  • 2 to 3 weeks before starting
  • 1 week before starting
Keydoc: new headteachers' checklist DOC, 205.0 KB

You can use it at the beginning of an academic year, or if you start mid-year. 

Get ahead on essential reading 

You need enough information - and the right information - to help you to hit the ground running. Familiarise yourself with these essential documents:

  • School development/improvement plan and strategic 3- to 5-year plan
  • Latest annual report
  • School self-evaluation form (SEF)
  • An overall outline of the budget
  • Latest Ofsted report and, if applicable, any key local authority (LA) reviews
  • Last set of external outcomes, including exam results and attendance data
  • Analyse School Performance (ASP) reports, along with any analysis carried out on them
  • Staff list and structure, including any teaching and learning responsibilities
  • Current staff handbook – check key policies like safeguarding, behaviour, assessment and attendance
  • Curriculum structure

Begin with the documents above, and then look at:

  • A list of governors, and names of key committees and their chairs
  • Minutes of full governing board meetings
  • The previous headteacher's report(s) to the governing board
  • School prospectus
  • Any quality assurance monitoring that's been carried out during the year

For resources to help you tackle these jobs, take a look at our resource hub for new headteachers. It includes guidance and tools to help you tackle strategy, budgeting and working with your governors.

Build relationships with your school community 

Once you're in post, you'll need to start meeting staff, pupils, parents and governors to form relationships and understand how they work. For example: 

  • Meet with your senior leadership team (SLT) – use our question prompts to help you get the most out of these conversations
  • Meet with each member of staff to get a sense of any concerns
  • Get into classrooms to meet pupils and to see what is going on. These should not be formal lesson observations
  • Organise an open evening for parents to find out their feelings and concerns. Use our guidance on introducing yourself to parents to get you started
  • Meet your governing board

Avoid making major changes initially

Don’t start making big changes, such as around your school's the vision and strategy, until you have a good knowledge of the school and have settled into the role. Wait until the end of the first half term before you take action on a major change like this with the support of the relevant stakeholders, for example. 

You could make some minor changes in order to establish yourself in the role, such as reviewing and reinforcing the uniform policy, and setting agenda points for future staff meetings.

This is the case unless your school is failing to meet statutory requirements (around safeguarding, for example), in which case you may need to take immediate action on the relevant points.

Be proactive and develop your support network

Start finding a network, so that you have the right people to lean on as you start your new job.

  • Experienced headteachers and senior leaders that you know and trust, and that are willing to give advice
  • Local school leaders who understand your area's context

Speak to your LA for advice on finding networks in your local area.

Leadership CPD from The Key

If your school has access to The Key CPD, take a look at our live, deeply practical leadership courses for your leadership team.


More courses for those who are new to headship are coming soon - register your interest.


Gareth Balch helped us create the checklist. Gareth is a school improvement consultant with a background in secondary school leadership.

David Roche advised us on the important documents to read. David is a former headteacher currently working as an education consultant and school improvement partner.

Nina Siddall-Ward is an education consultant, who gave us expert advice for this article. She is the former head of standards and learning effectiveness for a large local authority, and has been a headteacher in 3 schools.

Trevor Bailey gave us expert advice for this article. He has extensive experience in school leadership and management, and was a secondary headteacher for 14 years.


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