Talent management: developing new leaders in schools

As a school or academy leader find out why you need an effective talent management strategy, and how to create one.

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Planning for the recruitment, development and retention of school leaders is essential. Schools and academies can ensure potential leaders have the right skills for modern school or academy leadership with the support of:

  • government bodies
  • local authorities
  • diocesan bodies
  • professional associations

The main challenges of talent management in schools and academies are:

  • a pattern of increasing headteacher retirements
  • a shortage of aspiring heads in certain school phases and sectors, for example, in primary, faith and special schools
  • continued underrepresentation in headship of women and those from black or minority ethnic backgrounds
  • unpredictability over headship aspiration and early retirement behaviour as policy and pensions change

These challenges give schools and academies the opportunity to work together in partnership to develop aspiring talent.

Schools and academies working in chains or collaborative partnerships have developed talent by following the example of large multinational organisations. These organisations are able to rotate leaders around a range of leadership experiences and place their best talent where it is most needed.

Identifying talent

Leaders in all settings have a responsibility to identify and nurture leaders of the future - with the needs and demands of your school or academy in mind.

Good leadership qualities

To identify talent you should understand the qualities needed to undertake leadership tasks. Good leadership skills include:

  • outstanding classroom practice
  • resilience, and the ability to bounce back from set-backs and day-to-day challenges
  • the ability to influence colleagues and use their insight to see things from different angles
  • the courage to take risks and to learn from the outcomes
  • having a good work-life balance, with opportunities to develop as an individual
  • the ability to work beyond a comfort zone
  • being optimistic and having a positive outlook

Spotting leadership potential

Leadership potential can be assessed or measured by:

  • a simple informal conversation with colleagues to identify aptitudes and aspirations
  • looking for that spark at the recruitment stage by asking pertinent questions about the candidate’s interests and aspirations
  • external assessment centres and psychometric testing, which can provide informed and impartial judgements on an individual’s performance and future potential
  • regular performance management reviews
  • career progression interviews
  • self-nomination
  • 360 degree leadership assessment

Benchmark your process

Review your existing process for talent-spotting. Reflect on this and ensure you:

  • place a high priority on the development of your leadership team
  • have a process in place for identifying and managing talent
  • distinguish between the variety of behaviours and competencies required for different roles
  • offer objective feedback to staff on their behaviours and competencies
  • carry out regular professional development reviews leading to individual action plans
  • proactively manage the careers of talented individuals within the school

Demonstrate your commitment

Make sure your talent management policy is visible and available to all staff. Talk regularly to staff about their career aspirations and impress upon them that their potential is valued and recognised. This will reinforce your message that developing talent is a priority for your school or academy.

Developing talent

Once you have identified the people who have leadership potential, you need to consider what steps to take to meet those aspirations. There should be opportunities for teaching staff, support staff and the governing body.

Working with other local schools can also help resolve your leadership needs. Shadowing, job swaps or secondments to another setting within the same cluster or partnership would enable emerging leaders to see what leadership involves on a day-to-day basis.

Developing leadership potential within the school or academy can lead to wider benefits for the whole setting. Staff turnover can be lower as individuals become more enthusiastic, motivated and committed to the school.

Other benefits include:

  • the encouragement of innovative practices and continuing professional development of all staff
  • observation of good practice and innovation in partnership schools by prospective leaders on secondment
  • adding value to school improvement agendas and building capacity to meet those demands
  • promoting a culture of high aspiration and expectation within the school - for staff, as well as pupils
  • better outcomes for pupils

Challenges in particular settings


Recruitment of heads to rural schools has always been a challenge. One of the main concerns for aspiring leaders is access to professional development opportunities; potential leaders think there will be less support and guidance available to them in rural schools.

The benefits of developing leadership skills in a rural setting include:

  • building close links with families, staff and pupils
  • fewer staff and resources to manage and smaller budget
  • smaller class sizes, improving the learning potential for pupils
  • a more rewarding experience for the teacher
  • responding quickly to new ideas and being able to be more creative with the curriculum
  • collaborating through teaching school alliances, federations or clusters to pool resources, knowledge and skills

Small schools, like rural schools, can face similar challenges and have similar benefits.

Church schools

In 2010 the National College developed a succession planning strategy for schools with a religious character. This was in response to high re-advertisement rates for headteacher positions in Church of England and Catholic schools. This strategy was created in partnership with:

  • the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales (CESEW)
  • the Church of England’s National Society (NS)
  • diocesan and local authority representatives

The CESEW and NS have a wide range of responsibilities for schools within their dioceses including providing advice on recruitment and selection, religious education, pupil admissions, capital finance and buildings.

These resources can help you plan, create and manage your talent management strategy for your diocese:


Diversity needs to be at the heart of your succession planning strategy to create a strong and robust leadership team that builds and maintains equality.

The steps your school or academy can take to embed diversity into your succession planning strategy:

Leaders, governors and management

  1. Governors and the senior leadership team should be aware of the Equality Act 2010 requirements, and should be trained on equality and diversity policies and issues.
  2. Collect workforce data annually and analyse by post, grade and the eight equalities groups.
  3. Take action to address inequality where evidence shows it exists.
  4. Produce an equalities action plan linking it clearly to the overall school talent management process.


  1. Encourage internal candidates from under-represented groups to apply for promotion, offering support with the completion of application forms and given clear interview feedback.
  2. Have an effective marketing strategy in place to ensure significant levels of applications for senior posts from candidates from under-represented groups.
  3. Screen the selection and recruitment process for bias.
  4. Ensure shortlisting and interview panels are made up of individuals from diverse backgrounds.
  5. Make sure all involved in the recruitment process have had recruitment and diversity and equality training.


  1. Ensure that all staff feel valued, are able to be themselves and that their contribution matters and their voice is heard.
  2. Run an annual staff satisfaction survey and analyse results by equality groups and share the results with staff.
  3. Support staff in accessing local authority offers designed to retain staff.
  4. Encourage all staff to develop a healthy work-life balance. This can be of particular concern for individuals from traditionally under-represented groups.

Leadership development and support for potential leaders

Since 2007, the National College has supported local solutions delivered by schools, academies, local authorities and dioceses.

Other professional development opportunities are available for middle and senior leaders aspiring to headship. National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) licensees deliver our range of modules that you can study on their own or combine them to pursue a leadership qualification.

NCTL also offers support to teaching school alliances that take a strategic role in developing new leadership talent to meet local supply priorities. Your local teaching school alliance can help with talent management strategies.

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Published 27 August 2014