Head to Head

Advice from international school Heads to those new to seeking a Headship

Five international school Heads share their thoughts to others about finding the best senior leadership positions in international schools, and explain how a reliable recruitment agency might help:

Ask lots of questions

Paul Halford is currently principal and project consultant at Destiny Academy in Malaysia.  “Ask the school lots of questions,” he says. “Find out whether the school is a not-for-profit or for-profit school as this has a strong effect on the school culture. You might also want to consider whether there is a properly constituted Board of Governors and whether the school is a family-owned business. I would also advise asking about the staff turnover rates, and what the expat-local teacher ratio is.”

Research thoroughly

“Do your homework!” says Sean Sibley, Headteacher at Doha English Speaking School. “Make sure you speak to as many people as possible, not only about the school but about the area and the culture. Look carefully at the website and read online reviews of the school. Visit the school and talk to staff, parents and children. Ask for financial records, inspection reports and data. Take time to talk to the senior leaders of the school so you can gain an idea of the task ahead,” he adds.

Seek the support of an expert

“This is the first overseas position I’ve held and I feel this appointment would have been very difficult to get without the experience and advice from a specialist recruiter,” says Sean. “I had face-to-face contact with Andrew Wigford, the Managing Director of TIC, which I felt was particularly helpful. He answered any questions I had without putting me under undue pressure. During the whole process of leadership recruitment, TIC kept me continually up-to-date. This communication was very supportive.”

Be open and ready for good opportunities

“My advice to others is be open to possibilities and keep your CV up-to-date. I was unaware of the school’s search, their need for a Head and potential interest,” says Bill Livingston, Head of Carmel School in Hong Kong. “TIC sought me out and established the connection between Carmel School and me. TIC were very helpful in giving me an insight into who and what the school was looking for. The information they gave me on the process of the appointment was also very useful.”

Consider all the challenges

Paul Cunningham is Head of Lower School at Harrow International School Shanghai. “Always ensure that you have considered the challenges you are likely to face in the position, not just the exciting aspects,” he advises. “And seek out the support of a recruitment specialist. TIC arranged for me to have face-to-face contact with the school, and worked to get me seen by them very quickly. The speed in which they moved was especially valuable and enabled me to meet any deadlines I had regarding the notice I had to give to my existing employer. They also ensured references were given in good time.”  

Don’t settle for second best

“You’re going to be in a very responsible position for a while, so don’t settle for something you don’t really want,” says Bruce Ashton, Headmaster at the International Preparatory School, Mauritius. “Think carefully; after the honeymoon period wears off - can you last the long haul, especially if you accept something that doesn’t really address 100% of your needs? If you don’t feel you are getting the right service from a recruitment agency, or not making the progress you want, then find another. I wish I’d started working with TIC a little earlier. TIC was far more personal in their search on my behalf than other agencies I’d worked with, and they kept in contact with me. I felt like I was special to them, that they would listen to my requirements. They liaised with the school on my behalf and really assisted me in securing the position.”

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