The five different types of head


No one really likes to be pigeon-holed but according to research produced by the Centre for High Performance, there are five different “types” of head teacher: the philosopher, the surgeon, the architect, the soldier and the accountant.

The researchers interviewed 411 school leaders, scrutinized their education, background and experience and logged their actions and impact using 24 performance measures and 64 investment variables across a seven-year period up to 2015.


Philosophers are the largest group and these are inspiring heads who like to talk about pedagogy. They try to lead by example as senior teachers and don’t see themselves as managers. They tend to leave the staff and students alone.

Surgeons are incisive and dramatic decision makers with a laser sharp focus who try to turn schools around quickly by cutting and redirecting. These tough and disciplined heads show no mercy and waste no time introducing new rules, firing 1/10th of staff and excluding final-year students. They typically move the best teachers to the final year, reduce class sizes and increase revision for quick wins.

Architects are scrupulous and careful planners with an eye for detail. They take a holistic, 360-degree view of the school, the community it serves and its role in society.

Soldiers focus on the bottom line by trimming back every ounce of fat and tightening the budget. These tenacious leaders like efficiency and order and drive down and cut costs to meet the school’s budget constraints.

Accountants focus on the top line and try to increase the size of the school by recruiting more students as a way of improving the financial equilibrium. These resourceful and systematic types try to grow their schools out of trouble.

You might be a passionate wordsmith, a surgical mastermind, a creative financier or a tenacious cost-cutter but the research found out of the five leader types, only one had any real long-term impact…the architect. These visionary, unsung heroes are also the least rewarded because their grand designs take time to build and results aren’t instant.

See the full report here.

Not my type

So who do you think you are? You might instantly recognise yourself as one of these or depending on your experience, you could well have been a different type of head a few years ago. You could mix and match these types too depending on changing circumstances and contexts. Equally, you might not comfortably ‘fit’ into one of these categories at all and feel like you need to add another type of your own.

Whilst most headteachers might see a bit of themselves in these types, all such categories are just labels and they don’t necessarily represent everyone. Another piece of research categorises teachers into four main types in a similar way. ‘Why Teach?’ is a report by ‘Think and Action Tank’ LKMco which identifies four broad and overlapping kinds of teacher – idealists, practitioners, rationalists and moderates.


Headteachers and teachers are an eclectic mix of personalities with their own identities – and they need to be too as they serve diverse school populations that don’t comfortably sit into neat boxes either.

As we avoid labelling children, we should be just as vigilant to avoid giving school leaders and their staff labels too because once made they can be hard to shift.

Unfortunately the only type of heads we have are stereotypes because we are too eager to put people in boxes and call them names.

What type of headteacher are you? You are you.

3 thoughts on “The five different types of head

  1. I remember going to a school to arrange a voluntary work experience for a term period and on arrival I noticed a man on the floor, sleeves rolled up fixing a pipe. I immediately thought he was the grounds manager or handyman and asked him where the Head’s office was. His immediate response was, “You’re talking to him.” Straight away I warmed to him, a head that gets stuck in to whatever work needs to be done regardless of its nature, never mind a a shiny suit here was a man whom I could warm to.

  2. I have to say, Mizuno, I’d be worried about your Head’s ability to delegate and do what;’s important in the school.

    It’s all very well talking about types of Heads but you may need to use different strategies for different situations. If the school’s in a financial mess then the “Accountant” role should predominate, while the “Surgeon” role is required to turn round a failing school.

    I think most governors, parents, teachers and students want a Head who is visible on a daily basis. A Smart Head finds the intersections in the school and stands there at break times at least once a day and leads assemblies most days of the week.

    Teachers value Heads who consult and don’t think that leadership is about telling Heads of department and Year Heads what to do. These are the experienced old lags of the school, who really know what’s wrong with a school and have worked elsewhere.

    A Head needs to be the last link in the disciplinary chain, whom students really don’t want to have to see.

    Above all teachers want a Head who ensures the school runs smoothly and solves problems.

    There is much more to Headship than this but the above will get you a long way.

  3. Both mixuno and franks make valid points… someone you can relate to is someone who you might be more inclined to go that extra mile for.. i.e. A true leader. Maybe that head did evaluate the situation and do the job himself rather than opting for a 120 gbp callout fee plus sixty quid an hour thus enabling an extra class set of textbooks to be bought? Someone to whom you can relate to and who is prepared to do what is required rather than taking the ww1 generals view and run the war 80 miles from the front line is generally preferred by most people with the exception of those who feel that they can manipulate themselves to the top. People leave institutions for a variety of reasons but teachers are less likely to leave a leader as opposed to a Manager who think deludedly that they are a leader because that is what it says on their business card. Many managers in education like to endow themselves with leadership titles and roles but are little more than delegators in fancy suits and air conditioned offices. Cynical old lags see through this thin facade of bull and so get sidelined. This is from someone who had his own successful business and gave it up to go into education late in life… ( who is also a parent or client or whoever I am defined as these days) ….give me a cynical and hardworking old lag any day over a shiny suit with buzzwords….

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