Building the Leadership Pool in London Schools


27th November 2015

Today our report ‘Building the Leadership Pool in London Schools’ is being published. It’s jointly authored by LKMco and Kempton Consulting Ltd, with the support of Challenge Partners and it was commissioned by the GLA on behalf of the London Education Officers Group. The project involved a survey of 665 middle and senior leaders, headteachers and system leaders, interviews with 45 practitioners and key opinion leaders and desk research. Whilst some of the findings, such as the impact of housing costs, are specific to London, there is much here that can be applied nationally.

The need

The report outlines the urgent need to develop the leadership pool in London schools, arguing that we need to move from a reactive to a proactive approach.

In London:

  • Demand for secondary places is expected to rise by around 105,000 by 2025, not including Years 12 and 13 (6th Form), and 60,000 new primary places will also be needed over this time[1].
  • Over half the headteachers are over 50[2]
  • At 58%, London headteachers are more likely to have contemplated leaving in the next three years than their non-London peers.[3]
  • Re-advertising rates for headship posts are higher in London than the rest of the country[4]

Aspirations for leadership

Our research shows that there is plenty to celebrate: the survey of 665 leaders revealed that many practitioners have aspirations to continue their leadership journey, particularly primary middle and senior leaders in London, of whom 49% want to become a headteacher. However, London primary headteachers are less likely to have system leader aspirations. Table 1 take 4

Blog graph2Furthermore, we unearthed some encouraging trends: for example, middle and senior leaders are more likely to be offered mentoring than their headteachers were when they progressed into headship. There are also plenty of providers and schools working together to provide evidence based professional development that includes opportunities such as secondments, peer networks and coaching.

The Barriers

Whilst there are many aspirant leaders in London and across the country, we found that the barriers that prevent people from progressing can be summed up by three Cs:

  • A lack of content of professional development that matches what people want
  • A lack of coherence in the system which means people find it hard to navigate what is on offer
  • A lack of a proactive culture in how we develop talent right from the start of people’s career. We are inconsistent in how we develop leaders and sometimes we simply reach people too late or never at all.


There is a gap between the professional development leaders say they want and the support they actually receive. For example, the graph below indicates that whilst 79% of deputy headteachers in London who want to become a headteacher want a secondment opportunity, only 10% actually receive it.

Blog graph3


The variety of CPD on offer makes it difficult for individuals and schools to find out about the leadership training opportunities available. A common theme amongst the interviewees we interviewed was the difficulty in navigating the different providers offering CPD. As one key opinion leader put it: “There is a need to clean up the mess to help schools identify who can support them.”


The extent to which headteachers support leaders’ professional development is a crucial factor for how prepared and willing they are to take on leadership positions yet the experience of leaders differs considerably from school to school. As one survey respondent put it:

“Training currently depends on being recommended, released and funded by the Management in your current role. I feel that this means that potentially excellent people do not get the opportunities they deserve leaving un-tapped potential.”

This unwillingness to develop leaders may be due to a reluctance on headteachers’ part to ‘lose them’ to other schools. The current accountability framework judges schools on individual success: there are few incentives to work collaboratively unless you are in a multi-academy trust or in an improvement network. This has led to a system which Sir Michael Wilshaw brands ‘shambolic’

“The way we appoint headteachers is shambolic at the moment,” he said. “It needs to be much more professional and we need to track people from basically the early years of the profession all the way through into headship, to be much more directive”.[5]

So, what can we do?

For the full details, we strongly recommend you read the full report. But for starters, below are some of the recommendations:

  • Identify and offer more secondment and shadowing placements for people considering moving into headship – including opportunities to ‘act up’ alongside heads on phased retirement.
  • Create a London future leadership fund to support secondments/placements to be undertaken as additional members of a leadership team.
  • Run London-wide ‘careers fairs’ to improve knowledge of the range of training and support on offer.
  • Create a pan-London campaign to proactively make the case for teachers to become London’s school leaders of the future which counters negative perceptions of the role.
  • Support school governors when recruiting headteachers and improve the overall quality of London school governance as an integral part of developing the London leadership pool.
  • Develop and consult on a detailed proposal for establishing a school leadership talent pool for London.

This report is the very start of the discussion around how we develop our leaders in London and beyond: the next steps will be all the richer from hearing from a wide pool of experience and expertise, whatever stage of their leadership journey people are on.

Today, the GLA will unveil its plans for a potential London Talent Pool: they are keen for input as they develop their ideas, so if you are in leadership or aspire to be and have thoughts on how to tackle this problem, comment below, tweet or email us – it is all welcome feedback.

You can download the report here


[1] GLA, Demand for School Places report, November 2015

[2] Department for Education. (2014) School Workforce Survey

[3] The Key, (2015) State of Education survey.

[4] EDS Vactrack and 27th Annual Report 2014

[5] Wiggins, K. (3rd July 2015 ) ‘Ofsted Chief: Headteacher Recruitment is Shambolic’. Times Education Supplement