From education to employment

National leaders of education: a guide for potential applicants

Latest FE Choices Data is released

Find out about becoming a national leader of education (NLE), what’s involved and how to apply.

Register your interest

Following the designation of the 25th tranche of national leaders of education (NLE) in May, the department is working with the Teaching Schools Council (TSC) to ensure the quality of system leadership remains as high as possible.

During this time we will not be opening the next designation round. If you’d like to be kept informed on future plans, please register your interest.


To help you to prepare for starting an application, you should read the application guidance (PDF, 800KB, 16 pages) and gather the following information:

  • evidence of providing support into published cold spot areas and what your plans are to continue to grow that support
  • evidence of providing significant formal support to over the past 3 years (including details of the schools, the headteacher names, URNs and local authority districts) and an overview of that support and the impact it has had
  • supporting narrative in relation to your school’s performance data


NLEs are strong school leaders, who have experience of effectively supporting schools in challenging circumstances. NLEs work alongside teaching schools and other system leaders to provide high quality support to those who need it most.

If you meet the current eligibility criteria you might want to apply to become an NLE. The Department for Education (DfE) uses a sophisticated and balanced approach to designate system leaders – one which relies less heavily on Ofsted judgements and more on timely and accurate data, and the skills and track record of those applying.

This approach will help to ensure that more effective school leaders and schools are able to provide high-quality support, in areas of the country where it is needed most.

National support schools

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

Target areas

Application rounds are targeted to focus on areas of greatest need to ensure that all schools can access effective support, and that those in challenging circumstances are given the help that they require.

View the target areas.

Your application should demonstrate the work you are already doing to support schools in the target areas, and if you are successful, how you will expand that work to provide even more expertise to improve schools and children’s lives.

If you’re located outside of a target area, you are still able to apply as long as you can demonstrate how you are already working in target areas and your capacity to continue to expand this support. Each application will be considered on an individual basis by the designation panel.

All successful applicants will be measured against their work in target areas and will be required to report yearly on the impact this support is having. Failure to do so may result in a review of the designation.

Who can apply

To apply, you will need to:

  • have a track record of strong school leadership with at least 3 years headship experience
  • have a track record of providing effective school-to-school support which has led to improved outcomes for pupils over a sustained period
  • have the full support from the school’s governing body and a reference from a commissioner of school-to-school support
  • be located in a target area, or be prepared to work in one

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

  • be judged to be at least good by Ofsted
  • demonstrate sustained high pupil performance and progress over the last 3 years
  • have the capacity to support schools in challenging circumstances to improve

Read the NLE and NSS eligibility criteria for further information.

Notes for independent school applicants

Independent schools must have been judged good by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) or the School Inspection Service (SIS).

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, a regional schools commissioner, local authority or diocese.

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 their school.

The length and type of work can vary significantly. It could involve up to 1 to 2 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 are 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.

Bursary payments are made on an annual basis following the completion of an evaluation in the summer term and the return of signed terms and conditions relating to the current financial year. When funding is issued, schools will also be sent a grant offer letter.

NLEs should note that all funding will be issued under the Department for Education terms and conditions and payment systems. The Department for Education is required to monitor the financial assurance of grants that teaching schools receive on an annual basis.

If you do not provide any support for a long period, your status as NLE and NSS will be reviewed in line with the Review of Designation policy.

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.

As an NLE you can offer extra support to schools, including:

Working with other system leaders

If you do not meet the eligibility criteria to become an NLE, you may be interested in working with other system leaders such as your local teaching school to help them deliver elements of their role.

Find teaching schools in your area using the school-to-school support directory or by contacting the TSC regional representative for your area.


Contact an NLE in your area to work with you to support your school, using our school-to-school support directory

If you would like to know more about becoming an NLE and NSS, please contact your local teaching school alliance or your regional TSC representative or email [email protected]

Published 21 March 2014
Last updated 18 September 2018 + show all updates

  1. Updated email contact.
  2. Removed contact details for teaching school and system leader help desk.
  3. Updated the ‘Register your interest’ section.
  4. Application round has closed.
  5. Application round now open
  6. Application round is now closed.
  7. Application round now open.
  8. Application round now open
  9. Application round has now closed.
  10. Application round now open.
  11. Updated information
  12. Application round has closed.
  13. NLE application round open.
  14. The NLE application round is now closed.
  15. New application round details.
  16. National Leaders of Education application round closed at 5pm on Thursday 16 June 2016.
  17. Application round is now open
  18. Information added about the next application round.
  19. The NLE application round has now closed.
  20. Apply for the latest NLE application round.
  21. The application round is now closed.
  22. Application round open.
  23. Eligibility criteria updated.
  24. Application round is now open
  25. application round closed
  26. application round is open
  27. New application round open dates.
  28. First published.


Related Articles