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What Type of Senior Leaders Do You Need? Take the guesswork out of School Leadership Recruitment.

Updated: Mar 10, 2020

In October 2016 the NGA's CEO Emma Knights said on BBC Newsnight "This new research throws up into question whether we are hiring the right people to be our head teachers and whether we're rewarding the right people to be our head teachers. It looks at things from a very different angle and it may mean that we have to go back to step one."

Now Christopher Hilton, a Chair of Governors, ex-headteacher and school leadership advisor offers boards a fresh way to reinvent and navigate senior appointments and get the right leadership for their vision and strategy.


Why do we persistently think we can produce a different result whilst doing the same old things in the same old way?

Before embarking on the recruitment and selection process, boards should first take some time to consider afresh the current situation of their school, their future aspirations and, from there, determine the type and style of leadership they need to best enable them to achieve their objectives.

Think first about your current context and the future you desire and then the type of leader that you will really need. This critical investment of effort will equip you before you proceed.

Different roles have evolved in recent years and boards should be clear about which role they are recruiting to and why. These factors have an impact upon the type of leader that the school needs to recruit.

Research published by the Harvard business Review suggests that those leaders appointed to make quick changes and rapidly improve results may not be the solution to the long-term challenges and aspirations for the school's future.

The research provides schools with an important message about the need to reflect on individual and organisational leadership styles and their processes in relation to attracting and developing leaders.

"We found five types of leaders, but only one that was truly effective. We also found that the most effective leaders were the least well-known, least rewarded, and least recognised; although they did a great job, the results took time to show, allowing them to be overlooked.

Yet they were the only ones who built a school where exam results continued to improve long after they had left. If more of them can be identified, developed, and appointed, we believe the whole education system will improve."

Hill, Mellon, Laker, Goddard, HBR 2016/17

The research outlined five types of leaders:

Surgeons, who boost exam results by removing poor-performing students and focusing on Year 11 pupils, but see results drop dramatically in the one or two years after they leave. Often, they will be from a PE or religious studies background.

Soldiers, who cut support staff and non-essential activities, but see exam results remain static, while costs “bounce back” after they leave. Usually from IT or chemistry.

Accountants, who focus successfully on improving school revenue, but exam results remain static. Usually these leaders have a primarily maths backgrounds, perhaps unsurprisingly.

Philosophers, who like debating and sharing ideas and knowledge, will make little evident difference to exam results or finances. English or language teachers are prevalent in this group.

Architects, who re-design their school for the long-term, see performance starts to get better in their third year, and the school continues to improve after they leave. Usually they will have studied history or economics and had a career in industry.

It is my view that the style of leadership required depends upon the context of the school and that leaders need to develop their skills sets, adapting and changing as the school moves forward. We need to assess where are leaders are in terms of skills and personal attributes. This should be achieved through selection processes, CPD and long-term programmes.

How can we appoint more Architects more effectively?

  1. Identify leadership qualities during the recruitment process. (Architect Leader Leadership Style Profiling Questionnaire)

  2. Plan to develop the Architects array of skills through CPD/ Architect Leader or other National training programmes- NPQH, NPQSL

  3. Select a leader closer to the current context of the school but who has the qualities to adapt and change with CPD and self-reflection, then support an fdevelop them through mentoring and performance management.

  4. Work with Trusts/Governors and Trustees to define the type of leader and implement a tailored recruitment process:

Utilise a relevant leadership style questionnaire, customised question design, activities, profiling via digital platforms and selection.

Ensure all understand and have a common view in terms of what the organisation may need.

Embed in the process outlined by the National Governance Association.

Require documented evidence showing a track record which illustrates the traits and behaviours you seek.

How can we find and develop more Architects? Grow your own!

- The 'GROW' model outlines four basic components or stages in the coaching process:

(Identify and grow your own leaders: Succession planning. National College) Baines, 2010

G - GOAL - What do you want?

R – REALITY- What is happening now?

O - OPTIONS -What could you do?

W - WILL - What will you do?

To grow your own Architect Leaders, work with this and a set of criteria guided by Architect Leader types and characteristics :

  • Explore at senior leadership team meetings how to make the best use of the existing leadership pool.

  • Identify potential leaders who could step up to meet organisational needs, including improvement priorities - and give them useful experience in relevant change projects.

  • Hold discussions with aspiring leaders - for example within performance management reviews – about their behaviours so they are clear about their strengths and areas they can develop - and give them relevant opportunities to do so.

  • Publish the leadership criteria as a framework and key part of the school’s professional development documentation so that all staff are aware of them and understand how the criteria relates to them individually.

The research provides schools with an important message about the need to reflect on individual and organisational leadership styles and their processes in relation to attracting and developing leaders.

Key Next Steps -

The importance of having a long term plan:

  • Audit – What you need, who you need for the context

  • Plan for the specific needs of the school- The future

  • Develop Leader styles within of ethos the school/MAT

  • Start developing a local network and positive local culture, spreading the culture of Architect Leader.

  • Take a proactive approach do not wait for the need for new leaders.

  • Use systems and processes that positively to support the school.


To act on this, go to 'Engage' on

Chris Hilton is a widely experienced and successful ex-headteacher, Chair of Governors, passionate educator, school leadership development advisor, based in the UK Midlands.

References and resources


2. Headteacher Recruitment Guidance Document – Central Bedfordshire Council 2014 2.

3. A guide to recruiting and selecting a new headteacher NCSL & NGA 2012 Recruiting headteachers and senior leaders: Seven steps to success NCSL

4. Recruiting a new headteacher: Guidance for Governors Babcock and Surrey CC 2014

5. Guidance for the successful appointment of headteachers The Learning Trust 2009

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