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.


If you are the headteacher of an outstanding school, you might want to apply to be a national leader of education (NLE). In this role, you and your staff would support schools in challenging circumstances, in addition to leading your own school.

The aim of national leaders of education is to increase the leadership capacity of other schools to help raise standards. This is one part of the government’s plan to give schools a central role in developing a self-improving and sustainable school system.

There are currently over 1,000 NLEs. Our goal is to have 1,400 by 2016.


The application round is now closed. The next application round is not yet confirmed.

If you’d like to be informed about future application rounds, please register your interest.

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.

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 eligibility criteria for national leaders of education and national support schools (PDF, 198KB, 4 pages) 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 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 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 17 target local authorities and phase

East Midlands

Area Phase
Derby primary
Derbyshire primary and secondary
Leicester primary
Lincolnshire primary and secondary
Northamptonshire primary and secondary
Nottinghamshire primary

East of England

Area Phase
Cambridgeshire primary and secondary
Essex primary
Hertfordshire primary
Norfolk primary and secondary
Peterborough primary
Suffolk primary and secondary
Thurrock primary

North East

Area Phase
Durham primary
Middlesbrough secondary
Northumberland primary and secondary
Sunderland primary and secondary

North West

Area Phase
Cheshire West and Chester primary
Cumbria secondary
Knowsley secondary
Lancashire primary
Liverpool primary and secondary
Oldham secondary
Rochdale primary
Salford primary
Sefton secondary
Tameside primary and secondary
Wirral secondary

South East

Area Phase
Bracknell Forest primary
Brighton and Hove primary
Buckinghamshire primary
East Sussex primary
Hampshire primary
Isle of Wight primary and secondary
Kent primary
Medway primary
Milton Keynes primary
Oxfordshire primary
Reading primary
Surrey primary
West Berkshire primary
West Sussex primary
Windsor and Maidenhead primary

South West

Area Phase
Bournemouth primary
Cornwall primary
Dorset primary
Gloucestershire primary
North Somerset primary
Somerset primary
South Gloucestershire primary
Wiltshire primary

West Midlands

Area Phase
Birmingham primary
Shropshire primary
Staffordshire primary and secondary
Walsall primary
Warwickshire primary
Wolverhampton primary

Yorkshire and The Humber

Bradford primary and secondary
Doncaster primary and secondary
East Riding of Yorkshire primary and secondary
North East Lincolnshire primary
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.