National leaders of education: a guide for potential applicants



If you are the headteacher of an outstanding school, you might want to apply to be a national leader of education (NLE). In this role, you and your staff would support schools in challenging circumstances, in addition to leading your own school.

The goal of national leaders of education (NLEs) is to increase the leadership capacity of other schools to help raise standards. This is one part of the government’s plan to give schools a central role in developing a self-improving and sustainable school system.

National support schools

If you are selected as an NLE, your school will become a national support school (NSS). This is to recognise the fact that your staff are likely to work alongside you in any support you may provide.

Who can apply

To become an NLE, you and your school need to meet very specific criteria.

You need to:

  • be judged an outstanding serving headteacher with at least 3 years of headship experience

  • expect to remain at your current school for at least 2 years after being selected

  • be accountable for 1 or more schools that meet the NSS criteria

  • have the full support of your school’s governing body and director of children’s services or senior educational professional

For your school to qualify as an NSS, it must:

  • be judged as outstanding by Ofsted

  • show consistently high levels of pupil performance and progress or continued improvement over the last 3 years

  • be above the current minimum standards set by the government

  • have outstanding senior and middle leaders who have demonstrated that they have a strong track record and the capacity to provide significant support to under-performing schools


Notes for independent school applicants

If your school is not inspected by Ofsted, it must be judged excellent by the Independent Schools Inspectorate in the areas of:

  • the quality of the pupils’ achievements

  • their learning, attitudes and skills

  • the quality of leadership and management

Independent schools are also required to give evidence and/or show a commitment to supporting maintained schools.

What an NLE does

NLEs usually work with schools identified as being in need of significant improvement by the Department for Education, Ofsted, a teaching school or a local authority.

Your work would be tailored to the needs of the supported school. You can get involved in different ways, including:

  • working alongside their staff

  • working alone

  • your staff providing support under your initial direction

We maintain a school-to-school support directory for people looking to commission the services of NLEs and other system leaders. You would negotiate a deal to provide your services with the relevant local authority, school or other organisation.


Time commitment

NLEs and/or their NSS staff are expected to have a placement at least once over the course of a year, supporting a headteacher and his or her school.

The length and type of work can vary significantly. It could involve up to 3 to 4 days of support per week for 2 years or more.



We provide an annual bursary that can be used to cover the costs of the NSS, such as:

  • travel or supply cover for meetings and training events

  • travel to an initial meeting to discuss a potential placement

  • the cost of recruiting additional staff to increase capacity in the school

You would be responsible, on behalf of your school, for negotiating appropriate funding for placements. It is up to your governing body to decide whether you or other staff are rewarded financially for your individual work in a placement.


Training and development

All new NLEs will attend a free induction workshop. You will also be invited to join local leadership groups where you can share experiences and advice.

If you have an interest in challenging yourself further, you can offer extra support to schools, including:



It is important that you inform us when you agree to a placement, so that we can demonstrate the impact of the programme. If you don’t provide any support for a long period, your status as NLE will be reviewed.



If you would like to know more about NLEs and NSSs, email or contact our help desk.

Teaching school and system leader helpdesk

Telephone 0800 085 0984

Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, excluding UK bank holidays.