Succession planning to suit schools

10th August 2007 at 01:00
In his article on succession planning in schools, Alan Wells makes some basic errors ("We're not supermarkets", TES, July 27). He sees this as a standalone exercise but does not consider its relevance to all levels within schools and does not look in the private sector for examples of succession planning relevant to schools.

Succession planning should give employees at all levels opportunities to develop, allowing them to take on more responsibility and larger roles in the organisation. It should explore what roles people might move into in future to ensure the skills and experience they gain now are appropriate. It should not be too definitive, but should offer a set of possibilities of what might happen in the future when vacancies arise.

Good management should allow an organisation to promote from within regularly and at all levels to help retain knowledge and experience, increase payback from investment in staff and increase stability. But a healthy organisation should sometimes recruit from outside to bring in new ideas, and expect to lose some of its best staff. A well-run organisation will probably develop more managerial talent than it needs for its own purposes, so some staff may look to move on. A good succession plan should allow for this, identifying clear options on what might happen when key members of staff leave. My experience in the private sector is that there are more successes than failures and many ways in which succession planning can be tailored to the needs of different types of organisation, including schools.

As a school governor, I am aware that the most important decision I may be involved in is hiring a new head. We can have little influence over the quality of external candidates, but we can influence that of internal candidates by considering, years earlier, who has the potential to become a head, then help them to achieve that.

Internal candidates can compete on an equal footing with external candidates in the selection process for a new head. As governors, we should make sure the best person gets the job. If the best person is from outside the school, then we should ask what more needs to be done internally to develop good heads in future. If the best candidate is internal, we will be thankful that we have invested in their development. If, in the process, we lose a strong internal candidate who didn't quite make it, he or she should leave with our best wishes in the knowledge that another school is benefiting from our staff development.

Succession planning clearly has a place in schools. If done properly, it will be a vital tool to reduce the scale of the heads shortage.

Andrew Hewett

Governor, Richard Hale school, Hertford, Herts

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