Guidance for school leaders on Succession Planning

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Succession planning aims to secure effective leadership throughout the school hierarchy, with a plan extending into the future to cope with anticipated and potentially unexpected changes in senior personnel. An integral part of this is appointing a headteacher with the most relevant skill set to lead a school/academy on each stage of the journey of improvement.

The core components of a succession plan should include:

  • Key short, medium and long-term goals of the school
  • Identification of the experience and key skills required to deliver those goals
  • An action plan outlining how the school will address any permanent or temporary gaps in its leadership capacity
  • The above should arise out of and be an integral part of the school development plan

Steps to take in succession planning:

  • Review your current leadership structure
  • Addressing upcoming challenges, plan your preferred leadership structure
  • Design a succession plan to dovetail these structures

Moving forwards:

  • Retain and develop existing leaders
  • Identify aspirant leaders who have potential
  • Strengthen your leadership capacity through planned recruitment
  • Offer opportunities to develop and maximise identified potential

Draft a Succession Planning Policy to include all of the above features and outline:

  • Stated principles or aims
  • Context of this policy
  • Identify areas for development
  • Agree criteria for the identification of leadership talent
  • Operation of policy: Analyse options of how focussed development will occur
  • Monitoring and definitive reviews to coincide with development planning cycle
  • A monitoring checklist for governors

How the above is achieved will depend on the individual circumstances of the school/academy and where it is on its journey of improvement. This should be a dynamic policy with regular review. The role of any teaching alliances in talent management should be included for schools within multi-academy trust structures.

Selected examples to inform your thinking, not to be viewed as a complete list:

  • Recognise and welcome different styles of leadership
  • Prepare staff for taking on leadership roles in your own and other schools
Policy Content:
  • Indicate that all staff are encouraged to contribute to school leadership
  • Show flexibility when recruiting to consider alternative leadership structures
  • Consideration of work life balances, especially in unexpected circumstances
Short term goal:
  • Run a strengths audit of senior leaders to identify skills gaps
Medium Term goal:
  • Offer opportunities for all middle leaders to join working parties on SDP priorities so that they can be involved with strategic thinking, planning and potentially delivery
Practical Ideas:
  • Internal: Exchange schemes, secondments or shadowing arrangements, coaching
  • External: Release for qualifications such as NPQH, NPQSL, NPQML
  • Use of TLR3 posts for leadership of projects with identified attainment aims
Questions to ask:
  • How do we know who aspires to leadership?
  • How do we use performance management reviews to develop our leadership capacity?
  • Do we have an interim leadership plan to cover long term absence?
  • Are we prepared for the anticipated departure of key leaders?

For support with skills audits, leadership and team development, coaching or bespoke work on your succession planning, please contact Judicium Education on 0845 459 2130 or email

"The support we received from Judicium School Improvement Service prior and during our recent Ofsted Inspection was superb. We felt really prepared and confident with the process and the evidence required and the excellent advice we were given during the actual inspection made a significant difference to the overall grading. ” Jason O’Rourke, Headteacher, Washingborough Academy and Penfold Nursery

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