The Satis Education Blog

At times of great crisis the key ingredient all organisations need is great leaders. In a world of chaos and uncertainty, stability and direction is at a premium. A new report from Edurio, published last week and surveying over 40,000 staff, parents and pupils, found a strong correlation between the sense of confidence in a school’s response to the pandemic and both staff and parental satisfaction with leadership.

Whilst leaders have risen to the challenge of the current crisis, it is clear that it is now taking its toll. At the recent National #TrustLeaders Conference, National Networks Director Sarah Ray warned of the risk of losing more leaders to retirement, just at a time when we need stability and constancy in our schools and communities. In the same week, a report published by the Nuffield Foundation  found that one in five headteachers said the experience of lockdown had made them more likely to seek to leave the profession, compared to one in ten middle leaders and teachers. In the midst of one crisis, losing experienced leaders right now or as we emerge will only create an even bigger one for education.

Trust boards and their CEOs are aware of the issue. There are two key approaches where the risk of losing a good leader to retirement or resignation is becoming evident. 

The first is to ensure that CEOs and headteachers are well supported. It’s clear from our conversations that CEOs and headteachers in developed trusts have tended to benefit from the support of a strong central team of people – having proximate access to experts in HR, technology, finance, site management and much more. Building that central team of expert people has meant that CEOs and heads have had what Sarah Ray describes as a sense of ‘psychological safety’, as well as the ability to gain the necessary advice as and when they need it. It’s made a huge difference.

So we’re encouraging those CEOs and headteachers who do not have access to a strong and expert trust central team to think about developing it, and recruiting good people to those positions, as quickly as possible. We’re certainly noticing that demand for people who can lead technology strategy and HR expertise are in particular demand. With the trusts and CEOs we are supporting, that often means using our networks and insights to look beyond the sector to a wide pool of talent. This talent, sadly, due to the pressures on the wider economy, is becoming more available, but it’s important to recruit people who really do have the values and grounding to lead at trust level.

The second approach, when it seems inevitable that the CEO or headteacher is going to move on, is to begin succession planning now. The longer the lead in time the better and we encourage CEOs and their boards to have the important conversation as early as possible, not least as executive roles are becoming more challenging to fill. The recent NGA governance survey found that nearly two in five governors/trustees surveyed agree that it is difficult to attract good candidates for senior executive leadership posts (such as headteacher, executive head or CEO). If the recruitment process for a new leader isn’t successful first time around, that causes enormous risk to the trust and / or school community. Amongst our client trusts, when it comes to managing the transition from one executive leader to another, we cannot emphasise enough the importance of planning, planning, planning.

So if you are a CEO or headteacher who is feeling the pressure, now is the time to have that crucial conversation with your board, and possibly with us. Is it a case of needing to recaliberate the team around you, so you are well positioned for a new world, with new and unprecedented demands? Or is it a case of thinking that is time for someone else to take on the job after a hugely demanding time, particularly if you are seriously attracted to the idea of retirement after a successful career? These questions can be lost in the day to day demands of COVID19, but they are crucial ones if your trust or school is to emerge strong and prepared for the new world that follows.


Helen Stevenson

Helen Stevenson

Director – Satis Education

Helen Stevenson was previously the Director of Development & Governance of a large MAT. She has been responsible for the successful conversion of over 40 academies and has led on the development of numerous successful Free School applications.  She is a former teacher and senior leader with NPQH, and has worked extensively on the Academies and Free Schools programmes since 2008, working directly for DfE, local authorities and a number of multi academy trusts, including diocesan MATs.