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Specialist leaders of education: a guide for potential applicants

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Find out how to apply to become a specialist leader of education (SLE), what’s involved, and how to work with existing teaching schools.


If you’re an experienced middle or senior leader who’s interested in supporting middle and senior leaders in other schools, you may wish to apply to become a specialist leader of education (SLE).

There are currently approximately 8,000 designated SLEs.

Teaching schools and system leaders support the Department for Education’s goal to provide every child and young person with access to high-quality provision, achieving to the best of their ability regardless of location, prior attainment and background.


Teaching school alliances are able to recruit at any point in the year and will operate their own designation process.

To apply to become an SLE, you should:

  • contact your preferred teaching school directly to check whether they’re recruiting SLEs – contact details can be found using the school to school support directory
  • complete an application form provided by your chosen teaching school alliance
  • get a supporting reference from your current headteacher

Please see the SLE application guidance (PDF, 283KB, 8 pages) and the standard version of the application form for reference only.

Who can apply

To become an SLE, you need to have been in a leadership role other than headteacher for at least 2 years. Your headteacher will be asked to confirm that you’re in an appropriate role. Higher level teaching assistants 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 will need to have the capacity to release you to work in other schools.

You must have at least 1 specialism from our areas of expertise, which are based on the areas of focus in the Ofsted Common Inspection Framework (September 2016):

Ofsted focus Areas of expertise
Effectiveness of leadership and management Academies; leadership of continuing professional development; school business management and financial management; leadership of curriculum
Outcomes for children and other learners 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
Quality of teaching, learning and assessment Initial teacher training; assessment
Personal development, behaviour and welfare 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
  • a good understanding of what constitutes ‘outstanding’ in your field of expertise and the ability and confidence to communicate this
  • a good 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:

There is no limit on the number of times you can apply. There is no cost to apply. You can apply to multiple teaching schools, but can only accept designation from one.

What an SLE does

SLEs focus on developing leadership capacity. While other roles focus specifically on developing classroom expertise, this role is about developing the capacity and capability of other leaders so that they have the skills to lead their own teams and improve practice in their own schools.

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’ll 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 other schools.

Time commitment

The role lasts for 4 years, at which time there’ll be a review. The types of placements will vary. For example, one might be a 2-day diagnostic exercise, while another might require a 3 month, full time support role. Time may be taken as a block of consecutive days or spread over a longer period.

There’s no minimum or maximum time commitment. You and your school will need to think carefully about capacity and negotiate your availability together.


Discussions on payment for SLE support will be held at a local level between the teaching school, the supported school, the SLE and SLE’s home school.

How the programme works

Choose a teaching school alliance to apply to You’ll need to identify your preferred teaching school alliance that is recruiting for your specialism. You can check this by contacting the teaching school directly or checking the teaching school’s website. Complete an application form and be interviewed/ assessed by the teaching school. If successfully designated, the teaching school will confirm your designation to the Department for Education and confirm the specialisms (areas of expertise) you’ve been designated against.
Placements to support other schools Each placement will be designed to meet the needs of the supported school. They may involve coaching, mentoring or facilitation skills – there’s no set method, but support will always focus on sustainable leadership development and school improvement. Your allocated teaching school will want to be informed of the progress you’re making in your deployment(s).
Access to ongoing support and training Your teaching school alliance will ensure that there’s support available for you, where required. Our team will also be on hand to answer any questions you may have.
Additional opportunities As well as supporting other schools, we expect that you’ll also be able to engage with other areas of work – for example, research activity on behalf of teaching schools or working with national policy makers in relation to particular specialisms.


There are 2 situations where you have the right to appeal:

  • if your initial application is not successful
  • if you become an SLE and, when reviewed, are judged to no longer meet the criteria

To make an appeal you should:

  • read the SLE appeals procedure(PDF, 219KB, 3 pages)

  • request an appeals form from the relevant teaching school
  • submit the form to the teaching school within 10 working days of receiving the outcome you’re appealing (if the outcome is received at the end of term, this period will transfer to the following term)

We encourage you to try to reach an informal resolution with the teaching school before making a formal appeal.

SLE training

For information on training in each region, please visit the Teaching Schools Council SLE regional links webpage.

Contact us

For further information about specialist leaders of education, please 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 guidance for potential applicants
  4. Application round to become an SLE is now open
  5. Application round now open
  6. Added list of recruiting teaching schools
  7. First published.


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