Succession planning: It was always at the same point at any governors meeting looking at staffing and the school improvement plan when my inner monologue repeated the joke: “How do you make God laugh? Tell him you have a plan”.
The well-meaning board would come out with the same statements, including: “It’s about positions not people” and “No one is indispensable”. All the way to my regular favourite from the chair of staffing, more of a statement than a question, each time it got thrown out: “But what happens if Rob falls under a bus?”
Every organisation, every school leadership team (LT) and board, would be wise to keep the succession planning of all staff constantly in their minds, from the school leader to the IT manager and everything in between. As the old adage goes: failure to plan, is planning to fail.
“As difficult and awkward as it may feel, it’s imperative for schools to have a clear and comprehensive succession strategy.”
As much as it always took me aback that the chair of staffing was “education wargaming” around a boardroom table he also had a very good point. The worst organisations are often so because they are built on the personality of an individual and an ego, rather than good systems and culture. When the individual leaves, the schools suffer.
So it is imperative, as difficult and as awkward as it may feel, for schools to have a clear and comprehensive succession strategy. Simon Sinek said: “The greatest contribution of a leader is to make other leaders”.
These points can help that strategy become a reality and keep the school organisation successful.
Get people ready, the school head/principal won’t always be there:
The strategy I put in place in my first school of Wyedean was a result of knowing I had decided to review my own position after four years. I was open and transparent about this to my board and teams and it allowed me to focus my school priorities across the organisation on this time scale.
Get people ready through formal leadership training:
We extensively used the NPQ schemes for identified core middle leaders and senior leaders, around 20 in total. This not only gave them substantial formal training and qualifications and CPD outside of the organisation but it meant they brought so many fresh new ideas back or validation of what we were doing in our strategy. It also meant they spoke with their own authority at the table. They grew into leaders by experience not ambition.
Get people ready through informal leadership training:
I strongly believe that serving the leadership apprenticeship route is time well spent. My first secondment to the leadership team not only allowed me to develop a whole school experience as a head of history through developing the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, leading whole staff meetings and training, but it really opened my eyes to how the leadership team (LT) meetings worked and how the organisation really operated. I learned about LT confidentiality and collective responsibility at the core of any good LT.
“I strongly believe that serving the leadership apprenticeship route is time well spent.”
I have continued this as a school leader to give aspiring leaders the opportunity of leadership without the heavy onus of the formal responsibility all at once. The same is true of getting future leaders involved with the governing body, to see accountability in practice but also other areas of the organisation such as finance and health and safety. The day a new deputy is given the comms for the day with the head out is a huge but necessary step for effective succession planning.
Get your school ready through strong systems, structures, planning and culture:
One of the reasons organisations can go through turmoil when a school leader leaves is because it was built mostly around that individual and not really on much else. All school leaders bring their skills set, their personalities and style with them to the table but the foundations of the school organisation needs to be built on clear, effective policies, procedures with practical systems in place.
The structure of the organisation delegates power to the leadership team. The board regularly holds the leadership team to account as critical friends and documents like the school improvement plan, policies, handbooks, are shared, updated and ready to pass on when a school leader leaves.
“We are all definitely mortal no matter what we may want to plan.”
Falling under a bus is a little extreme but it is useful for all school leaders to remember what was whispered into the ears of the all conquering Roman emperors at the point of their greatest adulation; “memento mori”. We are all definitely mortal no matter what we may want to plan.
The greatest legacy of any departing school leader is always going to be a good succession plan. When they leave their role the new leader inherits an effective structure, that the team continues and the organisation continues, to develop further as a successful school.