This paper explores several issues about school leaders, career stages and performance. It draws upon various pieces of research, including the longitudinal study of secondary heads which began in the early 1980s at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), to raise some key issues about headteachers’ careers, the various stages of headship, and the relationship between length of tenure and school leader performance. The paper concludes with some thoughts regarding the future of headship and what needs to be done to ensure that the quality of leadership remains as good as it should be. If leadership at the apex of organisations is as crucial as all the research and inspection evidence suggests, then what needs to be done to ensure a longer ‘shelf life’ for school leaders and is the notion of a limited or fixed-term contract worth revisiting
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