You Can Be A System Leader: 5 Opportunities For You

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Paul Ainsworth

Paul has been writing for the Teacher Toolkit website since 2012 and is the author of 'No Silver Bullets: Day in, day out school improvement'. He is a system leader supporting primary schools, secondary schools and MATs currently with with Infinity Academies Trust as Education...
Read more about Paul Ainsworth

Are you are looking to have an impact on teaching and learning beyond your classroom?

System leaders work with schools outside of their own, contributing to the development of teachers, leaders. This in turn improving outcomes of children …

System leaders do not have to be experienced leaders aiming to become executive head teachers, directors or a CEO. Nor do they have to be head teachers accredited as local leaders of education (LLEs) or national leaders of education (NLEs). There are many teachers and middle leaders who enjoy the variety of being a system leader whilst continuing to be classroom practitioners.

Here are five opportunities for you to explore.

Specialist Leaders of Education (SLE)

The most common route to becoming a  system leader was as a specialist leader of education (SLE). These roles were open from teachers to deputy head teachers whilst retaining your current role. You will have developed a specialism in your practice such as a certain subject or an element of school leadership. For example, behaviour, continuing professional development (CPD) or initial teacher training (ITT).

The people in these roles applied to a teaching school and went through a selection, accreditation and training process. Teaching schools had a directory of SLEs. When a school wanted support in a particular area of school improvement, the teaching school performed a matchmaking process. This process located an appropriate SLE for the school who then worked in the school to improve the provision. This support could range from one day of moderation to a longer-term deployment over a number of days. Your school received recompense for your time out of school.

With the changes for teaching schools in recent years and the advent of teaching school hubs, these organisations are considering how they can create their own badging process for a new version of SLEs. They will still have lists of their existing SLE’s on the websites and post-COVID, are looking for colleagues to continue this work.

Evidence Leads in Education (ELE)

This is a fascinating role managed by research schools in collaboration with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Institute for Effective Education (IEE). They have created a network of schools that will support the use of evidence to improve teaching practice.

ELEs are commissioned by research schools. The selection process is similar to an SLE. The activity undertaken by ELEs will include encouraging the use of evidence to inform school improvement decisions; co-design and co-deliver CPD. They coach and mentor practitioners who are engaged in evidence-informed interventions.

Early Career Teacher (ECT) Mentors and Assessors

All ECTs in our schools will have a colleague who visits from ‘an appropriate body’ to undertake assessments and sign off paperwork. This is in addition to having an in-school mentor. If the appropriate body is a teaching school, then assessors are often SLEs or working towards this accreditation. When an ECT is finding teaching difficult, they may be given extra support from a system leader, such as an external mentor.


In primary schools, there is a range of moderation activities.

There is formal moderation of GLD (Good Level of Development) in the early years (EYFS) and writing at key stages 1 and 2. Local authorities ask for colleagues who wish to train as a moderator. After training, they visit other schools to check that assessments are accurate. There is often more moderation at different points, delivered through informal hubs of schools. For example, through teaching school networks or by a multi-academy trust (MAT).

Trust Curriculum Leads

Many MATs recruit primary and secondary curriculum leads.

They develop a particular subject area by producing planning and materials; working with teachers to improve outcomes in a particular school. In some trusts, staff retain their current teaching position whilst having a set period of time to complete their work. Some are full-time trust employees in a non-teaching role, whereas others have a teaching timetable. This is often when outcomes are low or there is a lack of specialist teachers.

Next steps

If this sounds like a good match for you, start looking at the leadership skills required to become a system leader. Next, take a look at the recruitment process and contact your local former teaching school and/or teaching school hubs.

There are many diverse roles working in and across schools. These allow teachers different ways of utilising their talents and interests. A system leadership role could be just what you need to invigorate your work in your own school.

What are you waiting for?

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