The changing role of education leaders in the future

April 27, 2016
Sir David Carter

Sir David Carter

National Schools Commissioner

The best leaders are constantly learning and developing, even at the height of their careers. Leadership matures with challenge and the best leaders learn as much from their failures as their successes.

Characteristics of a good leader

I believe that leaders should be judged on the impact they have on the outcomes of children. In doing so, the life chances for young people in terms of their future success and prosperity are enhanced. This is the leadership challenge that has to be met in this country. When nurtured well, our future leaders will be equipped with the resilience, knowledge and skills to ensure that the education sector is well prepared to meet the challenges of tomorrow. 

So what is it that leaders do to create this impact? Put simply, the focus is on the capability of the individual to formulate a vision to solve a problem or challenge that faces them. 

"I believe that leaders should be judged on the impact they have on the outcomes of children. In doing so, the life chances for young people in terms of their future success and prosperity are enhanced."

But even this is not enough. The best leaders take a vision or solution to a problem, turn it into a cohesive and easily understood plan, engage their workforce in such a way that they can deliver it successfully and then evaluate that the plan achieved what it set out to do. 

The best leaders then become the living embodiment of moral purpose – if you believe that it is your mission to champion vulnerable children, for example, your actions need to exemplify this commitment. 

The importance of collaboration

Collaboration lies at the heart of our future education system. The majority of primary and secondary schools in England will join, if they have not already, a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) within the next few years. 

If we want to create strong future leaders who work in a vibrant and delivery- focused system, we need the leaders in our schools and trusts to understand and be relentlessly focused on how best to improve outcomes for children. This becomes more complex and exciting when the challenge is conceived across whole communities of schools.

The recently published white paper “Educational Excellence Everywhere” sets out the Government’s vision for a world class education system.  One of the ways in which we can deliver this is by ensuring the very best leaders have impact beyond their own school. For example, the deployment of the best teachers and leaders across a trust means that we can extend the influence of the most talented professionals so that a greater number of students benefit.

The changing role of education leaders in the future

School leaders will always be at the heart of the communities that they serve. However there can be no doubt that we will see the emergence of new opportunities for leadership progression in more ways than was ever possible when I became a headteacher in 1997. At that time, headship was limited to single schools - there was no expectation that I would have a leadership remit beyond the school I worked in. 

The landscape is now different. The emergence of executive and CEO leadership models means that young talented leaders are more likely to be able to lead schools earlier because of the support and mentorship provided by more experienced leaders in their trust. 

The phrase I heard a great deal in 1997 - that “the buck stops with you” - is no longer true. The collective responsibility of leaders who lead across communities shares the burden of responsibility equally. 

"[The executive leadership model] requires us to be able to grow the best possible leaders, enabling them to take on a broader sphere of responsibilities that extends beyond traditional headship. "

Executive leaders exert the authority to make decisions that will raise standards across the MAT. This models positive and standards-focused decision making for the younger leaders to learn from. This model, of course, requires us to be able to grow the best possible leaders, enabling them to take on a broader sphere of responsibilities that extends beyond traditional headship. This is what the Future Leaders Trust Executive Educators programme does so well. 

From my own observation of the programme in action, I have seen that delegates broaden their leadership outlook through building their expertise in business leadership, change management and financial efficiency skills as well as the essential skills of leading collaborative organisations. 

The value of the programme is evident to those who have undertaken it. It is also undeniable that the influence of the programme goes even further as those working with the graduates of Executive Educators experience new leadership and new ways of working that in turn influences their own practice.

Applications for the Autumn 2016 cohort of Executive Educators are open until 27 June. Find out more and apply


This article originally appeared on the website of the Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019 the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

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