The need for succession planning

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Martyn Goodhand, managing director of education software specialist, Vantage Technologies, examines the challenges of succession planning, and how best to encourage teachers to adopt the mantle of headship.


The need for succession planning is a very real and urgent one.  Factors including the retirement boom, perceptions of headship, a long training process and national and regional variations have led to a shortage in head teacher numbers - a trend which is set to continue apace over coming years.

More than half the UK’s headteachers are now aged over 50, and will be reaching retirement at the same time.  It is projected that the number of school leaders retiring will rise from 2,250 in 2004 to 3,500 in 2009 – a 55% increase.

Few would dispute the role of the headteacher is a demanding one, with new responsibilities and the task of managing and implementing the radical changes which are taking place within the education sector.  Whilst 43% of deputies say they had no desire to move up the ladder, nine out of ten heads found the job rewarding – there is clearly a need to improve perceptions and clarity concerning the role and path to headship.

So how best can we go about developing and implementing effective succession planning strategies?  What approach can we take to bring teachers through to leadership positions and to tackle the shortage of headteachers?

Making A Career More Clear
It takes on average 20 years to become a head – breaking down as a rule into 15 years as a teacher and five more in a deputy head role.  Providing a more rapid and clearly defined route to the top – as opposed to the current more nebulous one - would appeal to younger teachers and help to ensure a more continuous flow of leaders.

Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and Performance Management are not new concepts within education; however, with the introduction of new regulations in September 2007 they will become essential in the teaching profession. 

However, this can be a carrot as well as an educational stick.  The structured nature of the CPD framework can provide the right environment in which to develop leadership skills and help teachers to gain a clearer understanding of what is involved in the role of headteacher.

By offering staff the chance to formally develop leadership skills, schools can help to reduce staff turnover and also create a ready-made pool of potential leaders.  Those who have researched, tried out and who understand what is involved in headship are more likely to believe they can and should do it. 

A commitment to professional development
By providing all staff – from NQTs right through to experienced deputy heads – with a structured, comprehensive and easily managed CPD program, this will enable staff to get a clearer overview of career progress, and the steps required to progress up the ladder.

Increasing numbers of schools are now opting for an e-based approach to CPD, which has the major benefit of storing all information in a single location, accessible over the Internet from school or at home, meaning staff can gather the necessary evidence and fulfil training and reporting needs when convenient.

An Internet-based approach also helps to reduce the amount of paperwork and portfolios required, simplifying the process and giving staff a clearer picture of where they are progressing.  From a management point of view, it is also easier to access online training portfolios, and to provide timely monitoring and guidance, in order to nurture talent and help promote future school leaders.

It is also important to choose a solution which supports the national headship qualifications (NPQH), making it easier and clearer to plan and manage the head teacher training, and encouraging more staff to take the route through to headship.

Putting Theory into Practice
Oakwood Technology College in Rotherham decided to deploy an e-solution to improve teaching and learning within the school, and ensure staff continue to develop and move up the career ladder.

Using an e-based approach has streamlined and enhanced the training process at the school, enabling assessors from Hallamshire University to assess portfolios in advance, accessing electronic and uploaded video-based evidence in order to assess staff more accurately and thereby provide more tailored training and advice.

Competencies are recorded, accessed and monitored in a single, unified source, making training more targeted and effective, and thereby boosting overall standards of teaching and learning. 

Chris Wilding, Deputy Headteacher at Oakwood said: “For us as a school, it’s a win-win-win situation.  Using an Internet-based approach not only enables us to meet the new reporting and CPD planning regulations, it is also proving beneficial for staff and potentially for pupils.

“Staff who choose to use the system now find it easier to plan and manage their professional development, and evidence is more interactive, which in turn means that training is more accurately tailored to specific needs.  This, together with other whole school approaches, is resulting in an enhanced overall teaching quality.

“An additional benefit for staff is that with this approach, they are able to evaluate and manage their career more proactively now, with a clear indication of what is required to progress to the next level, be that within their department or up to headship level.”

Succession planning clearly presents a major challenge to local authorities, but we need to take steps and develop and refine new models of professional development in order to maintain educational high standards and nurture the school leaders of the future.

If technology can be used to manage this process in a more streamlined and effective manner, this will enable staff to get a clearer picture of career development, help them to develop professionally and to progress more easily towards future headship roles.


Martyn Goodhand is managing director of education software specialist, Vantage Technologies / 01142 247 9500

 This article is taken from the May issue of Leadership Briefing