A primary head's guide to succession planning

March 9, 2017

Megan Drummond

Primary Headteacher, School 21

There’s no one-size-fits-all version of succession planning. As a school leader, it’s important that the strategies you use fit not only a particular person and the role they’re being developed for, but also the ethos of the school.

Case study: Developing a new assistant head

In my school, we have developed succession planning strategies both tailored for individual cases, and for setting up the school as a whole for the unpredictable future.

One of my assistant headteachers is planning on moving on from our school at the end of this academic year. She is currently our literacy lead. This is a key role, as literacy is one of the school’s six priorities, and her role encompasses leading on storytelling (a pedagogy framework we use within the school to teach literacy), phonics, guided reading, shared reading and spelling and grammar.

Having known this staff member was planning to leave, we were able to start putting plans in place while she was still here. This is obviously not always the case; later in this blog I’ll describe our more general succession planning strategy.

We were keen for our storytelling lead – who I shall refer to as KB – to step up to fill the departing assistant headteacher’s shoes. To help her to hit the ground running, we have tailored her development, encouraging her to take up challenges within her current role that she may otherwise only have experienced on the job.


Experiencing challenge

This year we decided to widen our senior leadership team meetings to include our key middle leaders, ensuring they can input on whole-school strategies and priorities. KB has been included in these meetings, where she has presented her action plans, tabled items for the agenda and helped shape the direction of literacy in the school. Through this process KB has been able to have her plans critiqued by peers before presenting to the wider staff and gained experience with being questioned and challenged on her initiatives.

Developing influence

Another aspect to our succession planning was for KB to develop and deliver a series of CPD modules on storytelling for all primary staff. In addition to being useful in its own right, this helped to give KB more experience with strategic planning and influencing others. It also had a great impact on how other staff members saw her, developing her image as a leader, and the confidence they had in her to shape the literacy curriculum of the school. Through collaboration with other staff members KB started to build a strong team of champions to ensure that storytelling was embedded across the school.

"It had a great impact on how other staff members saw her, developing her image as a leader, and the confidence they had in her to shape the literacy curriculum of the school."

Gaining specific expertise

The third aspect of our succession planning was for KB to develop to develop curriculum circles for key pedagogies. KB invited staff she identified as being either strong practitioners in her subject area or staff who were interested in helping develop literacy across the school.

She holds fortnightly meetings with the group, where she sets the agenda and leads the discussion. Here she has been able to develop her leadership skills further by implementing the strategies she sees modelled during SLT meetings by colleagues. This is also an opportunity for KB to build champions for the storytelling curriculum and to have a wider impact on classroom practice.



KB now has a whole-school view of how storytelling and literacy are being developed, and understands needs staff have if these areas are to develop further. She is using this knowledge to strategically plan her initiatives, both long and short term, and understand how they link with school priorities. Through this, KB has gained a deeper understanding of how to influence and guide others, meaning that she is seen as a competent and confident leader who is capable of change management and staff development.

And when we don’t have as much notice?

As I mentioned, knowing that a staff member is planning to leave and having time to develop a replacement as we have with KB is not always possible. Our strategy for succession planning generally follows a much broader approach. Line management plays a large part in this, with a discussion we call a ‘flight path’ conversation.

During this, the line manager and their report discuss the report’s strengths and areas of development and where they see themselves heading on their professional journey. Knowing where your staff would like to end up and what their ideal role is can be very helpful – not only for the school’s future planning but for the individual, who is more likely to access the professional development opportunities that are right for them.

The transparency these discussions foster allows staff to identify the areas they are best suited to and interested in leading, and helps the school to build teams, pedagogy circles and subject champions, ensuring that if a staff member leaves they are not taking all the expertise with them.

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

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