National Leaders of Further Education: guidance for potential applicants

Find out about National Leaders of Further Education (NLFEs), and how to apply.


National Leaders of Further Education (NLFEs) are serving college leaders who have a strong track record of delivering improvement – both at their own colleges and in working with others. They provide strategic mentoring and support to other colleges that need to improve.

The NLFE programme is modelled on the highly successful National Leaders of Education scheme in schools. Its aim is to engage and mobilise outstanding leaders within the further education sector to work with their peers in supporting improvement, so as to secure the best possible outcomes for learners at all colleges. NLFEs are supported in their role by their senior leadership teams and members of staff in their own colleges.

Participation in the NLFE programme offers principals and colleges the opportunity to develop the skills of senior staff through leading improvement projects, to work with other NLFEs as part of an active improvement network, and to transfer learning and experience from both back to their home college. Designation as an NLFE is prestigious, helping colleges to attract good quality staff, and to build strong relationships with employers.


The first application round has closed and appointments are detailed on National Leaders of Further Education programme: current national leaders. To register an interest in applying to become an NLFE, please email and you will be notified when the next recruitment round is launched later in 2018.

The role of an NLFE

NLFEs work to support colleges which have been judged as “Requires Improvement” or “Inadequate” at their most recent Ofsted inspection, and need to improve significantly in one or more areas.

Whilst they are part of a larger programme for supporting quality improvement in colleges, NLFEs have significant autonomy in determining how they deliver support and tailor their work to fit the particular needs of the college(s) they are supporting. An NLFE might, for example:

  • work with the principal and leadership team of the supported college to identify improvement needs, and potential sources of support
  • provide strategic mentoring to the college leadership; or
  • work alongside key members of the leadership team on the delivery of specific improvement programmes

In some cases NLFEs are approached directly by other colleges seeking improvement support. In other cases, the Further Education Commissioner identifies a need for support, and helps broker a partnership with an NLFE. Where NLFEs identify an improvement need in another college, they can also make an approach to that college to seek to establish a partnership.

NLFEs may work to support improvement within their own region, or with a college in a neighbouring region, where issues around competition between the relevant institutions are less likely to arise.

Where an NLFE is engaged on the delivery of a major improvement project, the NLFE diagnoses and reviews improvement needs, and works with the leadership of the college to draw up an appropriate improvement plan, identifying suitable sources of support – including, where applicable, the NLFE and their own college. The NLFE negotiates the arrangements under which their support is provided to the supported college, see section on Funding below.

Each year, an NLFE (including their team) is expected to commit a minimum of 10 days to their role, and to undertake at least one major improvement project partnering with another college. The time commitment involved in delivery of a major project varies significantly according to the nature of the improvement activities involved, and the NLFE’s role.


Funding for work as an NLFE comes from 2 sources:

An annual bursary

DfE provides the NLFE’s home institution with an annual bursary that can be used to cover costs associated with the NLFE role. The value of the bursary is £10K per annum. The costs covered through the bursary can include, for example:

  • travel for meetings, NLFE training and network events
  • travel to an initial meeting with a college to discuss a potential need
  • the cost of staff cover in relation to those activities
  • professional development for the NLFE’s college team which is related to the NLFE role; and
  • other non-recoverable costs incurred as part of the NLFE role

The supported college

For major projects, and other support activity where the costs incurred by the NLFE exceed the amount provided for in the annual bursary, the NLFE’s costs need to be recovered from the supported college. The supported college may be eligible to apply to the Strategic College Improvement Fund to help meet those costs.

Training and development

All new NLFEs attend an induction workshop. They are also invited to join a network with other NLFEs where they can share experience and good practice in delivering improvement support.


NLFEs’ colleges are required to report on bursary spending at the end of each financial year, and give an account of their improvement work and its impact at the end of each academic year. If an NLFE fails to provide the minimum level of support in any given academic year, his or her status will be reviewed, and some or all of the bursary funding paid for that period may be repayable.


NLFEs will be appointed for up to 3 years. At the end of their period of appointment, they may apply for re-appointment.


To be eligible to apply to become an NLFE, you must:

  • be a serving CEO Principal of a general or specialist further education college or sixth-form college in England
  • have been a substantive CEO Principal for 5 years or more (at point of application), in which time you have been legally responsible for the management of a college and accountable to the governing body, and
  • either be named as CEO Principal in the most recent Ofsted inspection report for your current college where ‘overall effectiveness’, ‘leadership and management’ and ‘teaching, learning and assessment’ have been judged as at least ‘good’
  • or be named in the most recent Ofsted inspection for your previous college with the same grading as described in the previous bullet (where the most recent Ofsted inspection for your current college pre-dates the point at which you became CEO Principal, or where your current college is treated by Ofsted as a new provider and does not yet have an Ofsted inspection grade)


If you have any questions about the National Leaders for Further Education programme, or about applications, please contact

Published 24 October 2017
Last updated 8 February 2018 + show all updates
  1. Page updated to reflect the application window is currently closed.
  2. First published.