System Leaders

In November 2010 the government announced that as part of its vision of a ‘self-improving’ school system it would “…create the national network of teaching schools…(and) designate ‘Specialist Leaders of Education’ - excellent professionals in leadership positions below the Headteacher who will support others in similar positions in other schools.”

Since 2011, over 6,000 SLEs have been designated nationally. The aim is to recruit every year; it is anticipated that more than 10,000 SLEs will be designated to ensure full coverage across England.

There are various System Leaders - NLEs, NLGs, LLEs, NSSs and SLEs. Information regarding these can be found here. It is the NCTL that is responsible for the designation all of these system leaders except SLEs - the responsibility of which lies with teaching schools.


Specialist Leaders of Education (SLEs) are outstanding middle and senior leaders who have the skills to support individuals or teams in similar positions in other schools and who have had at least two years’ experience in a specific field of expertise. SLEs can be school business managers, subject leaders or key stage leaders for example.

SLEs can come from any school or academy, including nursery, primary, secondary, special, pupil referral unit, independent and free schools, and sixth form colleges. Whilst the individual must be outstanding, his or her school does not have to be.

It is the responsibility of teaching schools to designate SLEs. SLE applications come via the National College of Teaching & Leadership (NCTL), in line with national rounds for applications, and interviews and designation are executed through a process using the NCTL guidelines.  This is to ensure that the process is robust, fair and consistent. Potential SLE Headteachers are required to support the process.

St. Mary’s Teaching School holds a list of designated SLEs and NLEs so that the range of expertise available across the alliance can be shared.   This information will also be shared with the Local Authority and other partners to ensure that SLEs can be available as a local resource for school-to-school support.

SLEs are designated as a result of:

  • having excellent interpersonal skills
  • the ability to work sensitively and collaboratively with others
  • having a commitment to outreach work
  • having knowledge of what outstanding leadership practice in their area of specialism looks like
  • having an appreciation of how their specialism and skills can contribute to the wider school 

All SLEs are required to undergo mandatory core training with additional training on offer from St. Mary’ Teaching School.

If you are an experienced middle or senior leader who is interested in supporting leaders in other schools, you might want to apply to become a Specialist Leader of Education (SLE).

Teaching schools are responsible for the selection and placement of SLEs. This is one part of the government’s plan to give schools a central role in developing a self-improving and sustainable school-led system.

Who can apply

To become an SLE, you need to have been in a leadership role below the Headteacher for at least two years. Your Headteacher will be asked to confirm that you are in an appropriate role. Higher level teaching assistants (HLTAs) are not eligible to apply.

You can be from any type or phase of school. You don’t need to be in an outstanding school or a school that is part of a teaching school alliance, but your school must have the capacity to release you to work in other schools. You must have at least one specialism from our areas of expertise, which are based on the four areas of focus for Ofsted:

  1. Leadership and management Academies and academy transition; assessment; leadership of continuing professional development; school business management and financial management; leadership of curriculum.
  2. Pupil achievement Art; closing the gap; drama; design and technology; early years; English; geography; history; information and communication technology; maths; modern foreign languages; music; phonics; physical education; personal, social and health education; religious education; science; special educational needs; support for the most able pupils.
  3. Quality of teaching Initial teacher training and newly qualified teacher development
  4. Behaviour and discipline; attendance 

To be successful in your application you should have:

  • a successful track record of working effectively within your own school and/or across a group of schools, or working with a range of leaders within a single school

  • evidence of successfully using coaching and/or facilitation skills to bring about sustainable improvements

  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills

  • an understanding of what constitutes ‘outstanding’ in your field of expertise and the ability and confidence to communicate this

  • an understanding of how your specialism and skills can contribute to wider school improvement goals

  • an analytical approach in identifying and prioritising needs

  • the ability to set and establish new and innovative working practices

  • the ability to grow leadership capacity in others

You can also provide supporting evidence gained from completing leadership development opportunities such as:

  • the National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership

  • the National Professional Qualification for Middle Leadership

  • the SSAT lead practitioner accreditation

There is no cost to apply. Successful applicants will be entitled to some training at no cost to their school. However, the school will have to pay for associated travel or supply cover for the training.


If you wish to apply please click on the relevant link below.

Please return completed application forms for PRIMARY to Emma Dobson. 

Please return completed application forms for SECONDARY to Beth Pettifer.

If you would like further information, please keep reading and feel free to contact us.

PRIMARY SLE Application Form

SECONDARY SLE Application Form

What an SLE does

Specialist Leaders of Education focus on developing leadership capacity. While other roles (for example, advanced skills teachers) focus on developing classroom expertise; this role is about developing other leaders so that they have the skills to lead, coach and develop their own teams and improve practice in their own schools leading to sustainable improvements.

This may be done through one-to-one or group support and could involve a variety of activities, such as:

  • data analysis

  • coaching

  • facilitating and training

  • joint action planning

If selected, you will be expected to provide evidence that your work has had a positive impact on outcomes for children and young people by developing leadership capacity in your own school and other schools.

Additional opportunities    

As well as supporting other schools, we expect that you will also be able to engage with other areas of work – for example, research activity on behalf of teaching schools, working with national policy makers in relation to particular specialisms or running a sessions for School Direct students.

SLEs are also often called on to provide other forms of support such as sessions for School Direct students, CPD, teacher training sessions, facilitators of other sessions; wherever your outstanding capacity can be put to great use!

Time commitment

The SLE role lasts for four years, at which time there will be a review. 

There is no minimum or maximum time commitment. The types of placements will vary. For example, one might be a two day diagnostic exercise, while another might require a term long full time support role. You and your school will need to think carefully about capacity and negotiate your availability together before applying in order to ensure you will have the capacity for deployment.


Payment is not be made to SLEs for time spent on or preparing for deployments which is incorporated in to their usual working hours. However, payment will be made to the SLE home school in order to help cover the cost of backfill or supply cover during deployment. Direct payments to the SLE from these monies is at the discretion of the SLE home school.

How the programme works

Core training day   

All new Specialist Leaders of Education have to attend this training day. It provides you with essential information about the role and gives you the tools and techniques for effective school-to-school support. It also gives you the opportunity to meet others in the role.

Deployments to support client schools    

Each deployment will be designed to meet the needs of the client school. This may involve coaching, mentoring or facilitation skills – there is no set method, but support will always focus on sustainable leadership development and school improvement. 

The Headteacher of the client school and the teaching school lead will formulate what the support plan will look like. Once this is completed, an agreement will be made between the Headteacher of the client school, the teaching school and the SLE which will include actions to be taken, outcomes and impacts.

The teaching school will then arrange the support. The teaching school is responsible for identifying and deploying the suitable SLE in accordance with the required support.

A deployment relies on the release of the SLE from the home school. Each deployment is dependent on the needs of the client school and the action needed. Of course, SLEs are chosen to carefully match the needs of the client school in accordance with the areas and levels of expertise the SLE provides.

Access to ongoing support and training    

Support and guidance will be freely available from St. Mary’s Teaching School throughout the entire process. We appreciate that whether it be the first deployment or the second, each one is different and will require different approaches. Progress of the deployment will be evaluated throughout the process and the SLE will be expected to provide regular feedback on the deployment to the teaching school lead, to record the progress and to provide a report at the end of the deployment summarising work done and evidencing impact achieved.

Additional information

If you have any questions or would just like to get more information, please do contact us - we're here to help.