Just imagine returning from the Christmas break to the news that a key member of the senior leadership team wants to leave at Easter – who would fill that gap? Succession planning is something that many schools don’t plan in a systematic way – yet if all the right policies and processes are in place it will be a huge help in creating an environment where staff are more likely to want to stay and progress because their contribution will be recognised and appropriately rewarded.
Succession planning supports the stability and tenure of key teachers, allowing for their development and advancement, while also helping schools to secure their future success by making provision for the replacement of key staff. A particular challenge for the independent sector is to maintain and increase pupil roll – and that means having the right and best staff – not just in academic subjects, but also to run the high level and variety of extracurricular activities that most families seek.
Generally staff turnover is lower in an independent school, where many teachers clock up long service, than in the state sector. But nevertheless, as a starting point for succession planning, independent school leaders have to be certain about which staff they need to retain. This means having secure evidence about all staff performance and potential and being clear about the value they add to the organisation i.e. in relation to classroom performance/pedagogy; leadership; their behaviour as a role model for others and impact in their role.
Succession planning involves going a stage further and ‘talent-spotting’ those staff members you want to retain to fill existing or planned posts or to drive particular improvement priorities.
Structured and bespoke school development programmes support the advancement of staff with leadership potential
There’s a strong link between the good practices that should be in place to support staff retention and those which will help with succession planning. In essence, both require that school leaders know the skill set they are looking for and then identify the people who show very promising signs of being able to develop and master that skill set.
Implicit in this is that schools establish development programmes which provide opportunities for aspiring leaders to develop the right skill sets. A necessary question for schools is to determine what those are; not just for the present, but into the future as the new post-holder is likely to be staying in post for a number of years. Structured and bespoke school development programmes support the advancement of staff with leadership potential and can ensure school culture and ethos is embedded with their developing practice.
It is essential that these programmes support staff to be innovative in their practice and able to develop ‘next’ practice. These programmes also help embed the ‘management’ qualities teachers will need to be successful in their new roles.
Alongside such structured programmes, it’s also important that a range of personalised professional learning is available to support staff development – that could include coaching, bespoke continuous professional learning or best practice visits, for example.
Another successful approach is to give those teachers who show promise opportunities to develop and demonstrate their leadership qualities in transitioning by enabling them to ‘act up’ in posts for a short period of time.
It is also helpful to remove barriers to staff development or work as far as you can – for example, providing clarity over marking to help reduce the burden of it. Give time for development where possible…some staff may appreciate time over money! That energetic and enthusiastic young teacher you employed seven years ago may now have a house, a partner and several children, making increasing demands on their time and energy. A small gesture such as one late-start morning could make all the difference to their work/life balance.
It’s not enough to recruit a good teacher and consider it ‘job done’. There’s a continual job to do in ensuring they don’t leave for want of opportunities, feedback or reward.
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