Shadowing Leadership: The Life Of A Deputy Headteacher

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shutterstock senior leadership CPD


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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This is a blog about developing middle leaders to become future senior leaders.

I have previously written, that Hidden Leaders exist within every school.

During the years that I’ve been a senior leader, prior to this time I wished I had worked in a school where there was an opportunity for me to shadow the senior teachers I worked with during my middle leadership. Unfortunately, this never happened … and I left to grasp the opportunity first hand. I would have quite happily stayed in the school where I was working at the time.

In my first role as a senior leader, the school I worked in managed to create a (SSLT) Shadow Senior Leadership Team. The members of staff had to apply for the process and had the chance to take part in leading school strategy. This had some success to a degree because it empowered the member of staff to lead a whole school project with an assigned member of the leadership team; but the programme did not give that member of staff a full experience of what ‘living life as a senior leader’ is like …

In my last school we talked about it often, but it sadly never happened, and there were a number of middle leaders definitely ready for the experience.

shutterstock a man wearing a suit sitting in a desk with a signboard in front of him with the word principal written in it

Image: Shutterstock

Shadow Senior Leadership Programme:

On arrival to my new school, I was delighted to see that I was inheriting a shadow senior leadership team programme that was already in place. During the course of my six months in post, I’ve slowly unpicked what is working well and what is not. Every member of staff who is part of our shadow leadership team, is currently taking part in the NPQSL CPD programme via the Institute of Education. This is an investment by the school and a commitment made to that member of staff. The teachers currently on the programme attend our leadership briefings in the morning, they attend our senior leadership team meetings on a rota; and they have a walkie-talkie and are partial to all confidential (radio) discussions; and they also pick up leadership duties.

I know this experience it is not perfect, but it is happening and staff do benefit from ‘some’ of the CPD on offer. Every half term, I have managed to arrange ad-hoc CPD training sessions for them as a small group. This needs significant improvement for it to be of value and to also become a greater CPD opportunity in the future; it also must benefit the school at large. There is an expectation that our SSLT can take control of a whole school strategy and lead whole staff CPD at some point in the year.


As part of the CPD menu I would like to offer all staff in 2015/16, I would like to tweak this shadow leadership programme in preparation for the new academic year. What you see below my current draft proposals – and they are not perfect or complete – and I’m sharing it here for your feedback.

I would really appreciate it if you could contact me and let me know if there is anything missing at this stage. Remember, this is stage 1 of trying to put thought onto paper. Over time, I plan to have an application process that is transparent and structured; with calendared CPD opportunities in and out of school. This may result in a useful document/brochure that is informative; sharing case studies of success and advice from teachers gone by …

Draft Document:

We are committed to developing succession leadership in line with school priorities, supporting all members of staff towards reaching their own professional goals. This CPD role is offered to teachers currently working as middle leaders and is offered for one academic year in the first instance. The SSLT post is designed to support members of staff who are completing the National Professional Qualification of Senior Leadership (NPQSL) alongside our own QK leadership programme; the intention is that teachers will be in a position to apply for senior leadership within QK or externally in the near future.

SSLT Shadow Senior Leadership Team CPD programme

Please email me here with your thoughts.


15 thoughts on “Shadowing Leadership: The Life Of A Deputy Headteacher

  1. Afternoon Ross,

    I really like this as an idea and plan to trial something similar – we have done it in the past as an extended SLT team. Would you LM this part of it, or would this still stay with current Line managers and be a standing item on their meetings? If this is the case, how do you, as CPD lead, ensure quality of in house mentoring? We currently mentor our NPQML leaders through LM and it seems to be working effectively in the most part. Also for the 6 additional CPD sessions, would you go down the route of CPD on HR / staffing type training, as the NPQSL is fairly effective on the leadership training – no?

    Just some thought,


    1. All CPD I line manage until we can add capacity and develop a core group. We have SLT mentors for NPQSL staff and aim to cover all aspects of leadership in light-touch CPD model. Much to develop!

  2. Comment added by TT on behalf of:

    Dear Ross,

    This looks amazing. I am doing the NPQSL currently and seeking an SLT role, so this is really useful, as are your other blog posts. The only thing I would add is that you could offer practice SLT interviews, if that is not part of the deal, and also ensure that they have opportunities to give assemblies.

    Many thanks for all your wonderful work.

    Best wishes,

    Gillian Poole
    Head of Mathematics
    Benenden School

  3. Comment from @5N_Afzal:

    Hi Ross,

    I think this is a brilliant initiative, one which will benefit the individuals taking part as well as the school. I would add one more thing that your shadow team could do. It would be good if they could attend GB meetings alongside the SLT member who is there. This will be great CPD for them as reporting to governors will be part of their job when they become a member of SLT themselves.

    Best wishes,

  4. Hi. My school has just set up a shadow strategy team which I am part of, also doing the NPQSL. We have been given specific whole school tasks to tackle and attend Strategy meetings on a rota. We are the first cohort to do this and we are just at the beginning, Exciting times, it will give us a flavour of what SLT is about I hope.

  5. Hi

    Love the idea – do you offer extra money / non-contact time to successful applicants along with the CPD opportunities?

    Thanks for posting this one.

  6. Hi Ross,

    I love this initiative and feel something like this would greatly benefit my school. Often we recruit new teachers, and after the first month in school, they are left unattended and unsupervised with little to no guidance. Many teachers experience burnout and emotional exhaustion, which is also why it is essential to have senior teachers providing advice (McKinley, 2022, para. 1). Our school has an SLT. Still, the members do not necessarily offer mentorship to new teachers. This would be a great initiative at my school.

    Thank you for the insights.

    McKinley, D. (2022). Leadership. INcompassing Education

    1. Dear Jodian – sadly, the deficit model in education is that we work on this way, learning on our feet as we go, making mistakes as and when. Great induction processes in schools, called on-boarding in business ensure induction happens over a long period of time, with little and often ‘check ins’ to see how policy and vision live out in practice. Thank you for the reference. I’ll check it out.

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