Four steps to develop your school’s senior leadership team

Written by: Simon Clark | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Building and developing a successful senior leadership team is an important part of the role of a headteacher. Simon Clark shares four strategic tips for how you can do this

Be clear on the key characteristics of an effective leadership team

As always, it is important to start off with a clear vision of what you are aiming for. A report from the National College for School Leadership (Thomas, 2009) identified several key characteristics of effective leadership teams in secondary schools, which would translate well to primary school contexts too.

These include having an appropriate team structure, a "clear and compelling purpose", able and competent members, clear operating rules, strong team leadership, and regular self-evaluation.

Reflect on your own leadership team and think about what characteristics you might need to work on.

Assess needs and identify targets

The next step to consider is conducting an audit with your leadership team. This will allow you to see what is going well, what is not going so well, and what needs to change.

You may want to use a leadership capacity checklist as part of your audit – this could provide a list of questions or statements and a rating scale for the individual to indicate where they currently are.

After the audit, you can follow a familiar framework to turn the findings into practical steps:

  • First, identify areas for development.
  • Second, form targets based on those areas.
  • Third, decide on strategies to meet those targets.

Remember, the senior leadership team is not isolated from the rest of the school. Middle leaders and “front-line leaders” are part of this process. Similarly, think about your team and organisation as a whole, as well as individuals within your team.

Create a framework for leadership development

A leadership development framework sets out your school’s goals for leadership, and how you will achieve those goals. It should take account of the needs of the school, the needs of individuals, and the needs of the school culture. The framework should also have a clearly articulated sense of values and a mission for the school that underpins leadership development.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has a toolkit for improving school leadership. It includes a questionnaire for analysing school leadership, with columns to mark your current and preferred situation across key areas.

These include redefining school leadership responsibilities, distributing school leadership, developing skills for effective leadership, making school leadership an attractive profession, and system leadership. The toolkit then offers guidance to help analyse results and take action through a new framework.

It can also be helpful to encourage individuals to think about how they define leadership and identify their leadership style. To do this, start by making sure leaders are clear about the difference between leadership (the wider team) and management (specific role within the school).

Leadership development is about developing skills and leaders’ self-knowledge. Once your leaders are aware of their own current behaviours and leadership style, they can work to adapt them to meet the school's needs.

Leadership development should focus on the capacity to act and being able to act confidently with clarity and effectiveness “in the moment”. To help develop these skills, you could give leaders a hypothetical situation and ask them to work out what they would do.

Use coaching to develop practice

Coaching should always be about specific improvements and have a clear goal. It might be about correcting problems or improving or learning about specific practices.

It is worth remembering that coaching is not the same as mentoring. Peer-mentoring allows staff to support each other by sharing challenges and offering informal advice.

It will also be useful to build your own understanding of CPD. For example, you could develop your knowledge of how coaching can be used to transform practice and support whole-school improvement.

  • Simon Clark is a content editor at The Key, a provider of intelligence and resources for education leaders. The advice in this article is taken from The Key for School Leaders’ resource “Developing the leadership team”, written with input from Andrea Charman. Visit

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