Supporting the next generation of leaders

Written by: James Toop | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The charities Teaching Leaders and Future Leaders are joining forces later this month to continue together their work to support and develop middle and senior leaders working in schools in challenging circumstances. James Toop explains

We cannot argue with education secretary Justine Greening’s ambition to create more great school places across the country; educational disadvantage is one of the greatest challenges in our society.

By age five, there is a 40 per cent gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, and the gap only becomes wider from there.

Of the 1.9 million children eligible for Pupil Premium funding in England, only a third get five “good” passes at GCSE. This means that 1.2 million children will leave school without the grades that will help them get a steady job or study further.

But returning to a policy debate about school structures, whether it be full academisation or grammar schools, misses the key priority we need to address.

The only consistent policy lever which can achieve our collective ambition is one focused on growing the capacity of the people running schools every day: our teachers and school leaders.

Recent research from the Education Policy Institute makes this point clear.

They have just produced two studies assessing the introduction of academies and grammar schools. The evidence was inconclusive, but what came through consistently from all reports was that, irrespective of structure, the schools that delivered the best outcomes had great leadership.

The same was true of London Challenge and the early sponsored academies.

School leaders have huge impact and influence. They shape the vision and values, and set the high expectations and standards which define how children are educated.

They build the leadership and teaching team that delivers that vision and together with that team monitor teacher quality, pupil outcomes and the curriculum.

They manage relationships beyond the school gates which impact on pupils’ lives; relationships with parents, the local community and other schools.

Great school leadership is vital to ensure that every child fulfils their potential regardless of background.

If leadership is our solution then we need to address the leadership gap at every level of every school. To do this we face three key challenges.

The first is how we grow the number of effective school leaders. The second is how we get them working in the places where they can have the greatest impact. The third is how we get leaders working together at every level of a school to create consistency.

Teaching Leaders and The Future Leaders Trust have taken the decision to join forces in order to address these challenges.

By coming together we will offer a continuous development pathway, encompassing every level of school leadership – from aspiring middle leader, to headteacher, to chief executive of a multi-academy trust (MAT).

For individual leaders this will provide a clear career path with career-long support. For schools and MATs, we will offer a single port of call for all leadership development needs at every level of the organisation.

Together, we will be able support more schools across the country, and so have an impact on far more children.

Now I will speak directly to the leaders, and potential leaders, reading this: the challenge is also yours. While organisations like mine have a role to play, we are nothing without you. The responsibility to grow the capacity and capability of the next generation of middle leaders, senior leaders and headteachers is yours.

There are five ways you can do this, depending on your current role.

Take the step up

If you haven’t already, think about taking the step up to leadership. As a school leader or a middle leader, the moral purpose which drove you into teaching still remains – but you can have a greater impact on more children. Ask any new middle leader why they stepped into a leadership role and the immediate answer is to have an impact on pupils beyond their own classroom. And as you become more experienced, that ambition for children grows into ambition for the adults around you.


Role-model growing other leaders. Do you run training in your area, school or group? Do you mentor and coach other teachers and leaders? Taking a personal interest and spending time developing staff has a huge impact on them and the value you place on growing leaders.

Promote from within

In a high-accountability system, it can be daunting to promote staff early from within, but by taking calculated risks and providing staff with the right balance of stretch and support you can really accelerate leadership potential. You can help make this calculated risk successful by providing the right induction, mentoring and coaching through the first year of a new role, and providing absolute clarity on performance targets.

A leadership system

Think about the consistency and reliability of your leadership team at all levels. Ask yourself the following questions: Do you take as much interest in your middle leaders as your senior leaders and headteachers? Do you engage your middle leaders with school strategy and planning? Do your middle leaders collaborate within and across schools? Do middle and senior leaders work together on whole-school priorities?

Plan for the future

Identify those you want to retain; have personal conversations about what challenges will stretch them and how they want to develop. By taking a personal view, you can build trust, ensure they get access to the right development opportunities and your reward will be retention and stronger succession planning.


To transform our education system, we all have a role to play. Whatever the political climate, whatever structural reforms are underway, growing exceptional school leaders is always going to deliver better outcomes for children. The challenge is that we need more of these leaders, in the right places, and at every level of our system.

Why do leaders lead? We lead because we want to have an even greater impact than we could in our classrooms. We lead because we get joy out of supporting other teachers and leaders to have a greater impact. Above all, we lead because we want to create brighter futures for children.

By building a collective movement to grow more great leaders, we will have the greatest impact on the life chances of all children across our system.

  • James Toop is the current CEO of Teaching Leaders and the CEO designate of Teaching Leaders and the Future Leaders Trust.

Further information

This month, Teaching Leaders and the Future Leaders Trust will be joining forces to create one organisation aimed at tackling educational disadvantage through developing and supporting school leaders at all levels.
For more information, visit


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin