National leaders of education: a guide for potential applicants

Find out about becoming a national leader of education (NLE), what's involved and how to apply.


National leaders of education are headteachers, executive heads and CEOs, who have experience of effectively supporting schools in challenging circumstances. If you meet the current eligibility criteria you might want to apply to become a national leader of education. In this role, you and your staff would provide high-quality support to those most in need, in addition to leading your own school.

NLEs work alongside teaching schools and other system leaders to support schools in delivering educational excellence everywhere to help raise standards.

There are currently over 1,100 NLEs. Our goal is to increase this by up to 700 more NLEs by 2020, targeting recruitment in areas of greatest need.

Target areas

Tranche 20 is a targeted application round focusing on areas of greatest need to ensure that all schools can access high-quality support. If you can provide support to schools in the target areas, even if you’re situated outside of a target area, please specify how you’d do this within your application. Your application will be considered on an individual basis by the designation panel.

National support schools

If you’re selected as an NLE, your school will become a national support school (NSS). This is to recognise the fact that your staff are likely to work alongside you in any support you may provide.


The application round to become a national leader of education is now closed. Register your interest in becoming an NLE.

Who can apply

To become an NLE, you and your school need to meet very specific criteria.

You need to:

  • be judged an outstanding serving headteacher with at least 3 years’ headship experience
  • expect to remain at your current school for at least 2 years after being selected
  • be accountable for 1 or more schools that meet the NSS criteria
  • have the full support of your school’s governing body and director of children’s services or senior educational professional

For your school to qualify as an NSS, it must:

  • be judged as outstanding by Ofsted
  • show consistently high levels of pupil performance and progress or continued improvement over the last 3 years
  • be above the current minimum standards set by the government
  • have outstanding senior and middle leaders who have demonstrated that they have a strong track record and the capacity to provide significant support to under-performing schools

Read the NLE and NSS eligibility criteria and the NLE and NSS application guidance for further information.

Notes for independent school applicants

If your school is not inspected by Ofsted, it must be judged excellent by the Independent Schools Inspectorate or Schools Inspection Service in the areas of:

  • the quality of the pupils’ achievements
  • their learning, attitudes and skills
  • the quality of leadership and management

Independent schools are also required to give evidence and/or show a commitment to supporting maintained schools.

What an NLE does

NLEs usually work with schools identified as being in need of significant improvement by the Department for Education, Ofsted, a teaching school, a regional schools commissioner or a local authority.

Your work would be tailored to the needs of the supported school. You can get involved in different ways, including:

  • working alongside their staff
  • working alone
  • your staff providing support under your initial direction

We maintain a school-to-school support directory for people looking to commission the services of NLEs and other system leaders. You would negotiate a deal to provide your services with the relevant local authority, school or other organisation.

Time commitment

NLEs and/or their NSS staff are expected to have a placement at least once over the course of a year, supporting a headteacher and his or her school.

The length and type of work can vary significantly. It could involve up to 3 to 4 days of support per week for 2 years or more.


We provide an annual bursary that can be used to cover the costs of the NSS, such as:

  • travel or supply cover for meetings and training events
  • travel to an initial meeting to discuss a potential placement
  • the cost of recruiting additional staff to increase capacity in the school

You would be responsible, on behalf of your school, for negotiating appropriate funding for placements. It is up to your governing body to decide whether you or other staff are rewarded financially for your individual work in a placement.

Training and development

All new NLEs will attend a free induction workshop. You will also be invited to join local leadership groups where you can share experiences and advice.

If you have an interest in challenging yourself further, you can offer extra support to schools, including:


It is important that you inform us when you agree to a placement, so that we can demonstrate the impact of the programme. If you don’t provide any support for a long period, your status as NLE will be reviewed.

NLE and NSS tranche 20 target areas and phase/sector

East Midlands

Area Phase/Sector
Derby Primary and secondary
Derbyshire Primary and secondary
Lincolnshire Secondary
Northamptonshire Primary
Nottinghamshire Primary

East of England

Area Phase/Sector
Cambridgeshire Primary and secondary
Central Bedfordshire Secondary
Hertfordshire Primary
Norfolk Primary and secondary
Peterborough Primary and secondary
Southend-on-Sea Primary
Suffolk Primary

North East

Area Phase
Darlington Primary
Middlesbrough Secondary
Northumberland Primary and secondary
Redcar and Cleveland Secondary
Stockton-on-Tees Secondary
Sunderland Secondary

North West

Area Phase/Sector
Blackburn with Darwen Primary
Blackpool Primary and secondary
Chesire West and Chester Primary
Halton Primary
Knowsley Secondary
Liverpool Primary and secondary
Manchester Secondary
Oldham Secondary
Salford Primary
Sefton Secondary
St. Helens Secondary
Stockport Primary
Tameside Primary and secondary
Wigan Secondary
Wirral Primary

South East

Area Phase/Sector
Bracknell Forest Primary
Brighton and Hove Primary and secondary
Buckinghamshire Secondary
East Sussex Primary and secondary
Hampshire Primary
Isle of Wight Primary and secondary
Kent Primary
Medway Primary
Milton Keynes Primary
Oxfordshire Primary
Portsmouth Secondary
West Berkshire Primary and secondary
West Sussex Primary

South West

Area Phase/Sector
Gloucestershire Primary
Swindon Secondary
Torbay Secondary
Wiltshire Primary

West Midlands

Area Phase/Sector
Shropshire Primary
Solihull Primary
Staffordshire Primary and secondary
Stoke-on-Trent Secondary
Telford and Wrekin Primary
Walsall Primary
Warwickshire Primary
Wolverhampton Primary
Worcestershire Primary

Yorkshire and The Humber

Area Phase/Sector
Barnsley Primary
Bradford Primary and secondary
Doncaster Primary and secondary
East Riding of Yorkshire Secondary
North East Lincolnshire Primary and secondary
North Lincolnshire Primary
North Yorkshire Primary
Rotherham Primary
Sheffield Primary


Contact an NLE in your area to work with you to support your school, using our school to school support directory.

If you would like to know more about NLEs and NSSs, email or contact our help desk.

Teaching school and system leader help desk

Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, excluding UK bank holidays.