Moving middle leaders to senior leadership

The supply and quality of school leaders continues to be a concern. In this article Vin Osbaldeston outlines his succession planning tips for headteachers

Author details

Vincent Osbaldeston has taught in both primary and secondary, independent schools and state schools. He has been an ofsted inspector and head teacher of an independent school prior to taking up his current post. He currently works with schools as...

School: Freshfield  Primary School      
Location:  Liverpool 
Number of pupils on role: 269
Category: Primary, community
Level of FSM: Well below the national average
Level of SEN: Below the national average
Other features: The school is now a National Support School and supports three other schools in the Sefton local authority

Ofsted comments

‘Together with a highly skilled and experienced senior leadership team and a highly committed and involved governing body, the headteacher has ensured that the quality of teaching and standards reached by pupils are continually improving.’ (Summary of key findings)

Central to my philosophy in running my school is the expectation that everyone is a learner and everyone has the potential to make a positive contribution to the school. Of course, balanced with this is the risk of giving staff the opportunities to have a go, for better or for worse. The development of leaders for me is based on having distinct projects in which emergent leaders can develop skills of management and leadership.

Succession planning has allowed me to keep a close eye on the small stuff whilst working on the big stuff. My emerging leaders sharpen their teeth on the day-to-day operations of the school. As they become more seasoned, I encourage a changing mind-set so that they become more familiar with strategic as well as operational management. Along with this is leadership development and I believe that emerging leaders need to be regularly coached to recognise, understand and perform in their different roles.

Six strategies​

Below I share six of the strategies I use in developing the emergent leader.

The development of leaders for me is based on having distinct projects in which emergent leaders can develop skills of management and leadership

  1. Everyone’s voice count​s

    I nurture a culture in which everyone’s voice counts. Each week at the staff briefing I give a reminder of what our priorities are as a proactive group of people. Coupled with this is the rule that there are no negative words, instead there is always someone to share a challenge and find a solution. I try to ensure this mind-set permeates every corner of our school, so that we identify issues and seek solutions.

    In such a culture, everyone's view counts towards the common goal. Emergent leaders tend to thrive in this environment because they are eager to be involved and take up the challenge.

  2. Recognising​ ​str​engths

    I spot strengths in people - particularly when others can do things better than me! There are at least 30skills which go towards effective leadership and you can't be good at all of them all of the time. By letting go and giving others real responsibility, I have found that emergent leaders take on more and stretch themselves. Staff find they have real weight in their decision-making and this spurs them on to achieve more. Because the school’s mission is always clearly in view they can see that they genuinely contribute to the school’s progress.

  3. A clear ​p​​ath

    I keep the school priorities succinct, few in number and time controlled. It's not a case of putting blinkers on the staff, but showing them the path forward. I find that I don’t always have to lead all the time because others are seeking out the next steps. It is important to work with staff to promptly address barriers to success; I let them see that I will give resources to achieve the objectives set. Time each week directing, nurturing, challenging, reflecting and celebrating with emergent leaders is crucial.

  4. Effective praise

    I spend time with my leaders to help them reflect on their work and recognise the impact of actions to improve learning and raise standards. Initially, discussions may be directional but with time they take onmore of a coaching mode so that both operational and strategic matters are covered. It doesn’t have to take a long time and the more I do it the more time I have to focus on strategy.

  5. Risk taking

    Take a risk and let others lead. This in turn encourages emergent leaders to take risks too. Risk taking coupled with balanced, constructive feedback is a great platform on which to build success. The emergent leader moves from a position of responsibility to one of accountability.

  6. Becoming an expert

    Lastly, I encourage emergent leaders to become experts in their own right and use CPD to hone their practices. These days I rarely lead a CPD session because other members of staff are driving initiatives. My role tends to be in coaching staff so that they know what and how they want to deliver the session. I established the culture of CPD meetings so that there is always a clear focus, an unwritten rule that every one contributes and that application in the classroom follows the session because there is the expectation of an impact on teaching and learning.

Being confident

When my school was first inspected under my headship in 2007, my senior leadership team had been together for less than two years. The HMI leading the inspection spoke to the senior team for an hour and a half about a wide range of school issues. At the end of the meeting he took me aside and said that the most impressive demonstration of the school’s leadership was that for most of the meeting I had the confidence to let the other members of the team do the talking. Since that time we have gone from strength to strength.

Last Updated: 
11 Dec 2015