Free Article: Starting as a senior business leader in an academy or MAT

Published: Wednesday, 31 October 2018 10:23

Starting a new job can be an exciting yet daunting process. When starting as a senior leader, it is likely that your new colleagues will have similar feelings about your appointment. In this article, Nathan Waites sets out a number of ways to make the transition easier, for both you and your colleagues.

Summary points

  • To make the most of your new role as a senior business leader, get to know the people in the school. This will help to ensure that you get off to a great start.
  • Group and one-to-one meetings are a useful way to get a sense of the way strategy is implemented in the school, as well as the various personalities, skills and strengths your colleagues have.
  • Looking through the written information and documentation available to you will also help to give you a greater understanding the school’s performance and direction. What do the accounts tell you, for example?

The early days: getting to know the people in school

Where possible, meet the teams for which you are responsible at an early stage. Remember that as much as you will want to get to know them, the teams will also want to get to know you. Meeting people early helps to form positive working relationships, and can prove invaluable for gaining an insight into the business and its processes. Setting up team meetings as well as individual one-to-one meetings allows you to get to know specific team members and the roles they play within the group dynamic.

Group meetings

As a senior leader, a clear vision is important, and it is key to share your vision across teams in a consistent manner. A group meeting allows you to set out your vision in a relaxed environment, in which team members have the opportunity to find out more about you and your aspirations for the school/trust. It also allows you to find out more about the individuals who will be supporting you in making your vision a reality, and keeping the school a safe, compliant and efficient space. Establishing a sense of direction, and allowing an opportunity for sharing concerns, can be hugely beneficial at an early stage, as it helps focus people’s thoughts and planning for strategic improvement.

One-to-one meetings

By their nature, people like to have an interest shown in them, and this is no different in the workplace. Above all, it is useful and motivating for staff to know how their jobs fit into your vision, and how they specifically make a difference. A one-to-one meeting helps encourage an open dialogue, and can open up your understanding of team members as individuals as well as of their working practices. Areas for discussion might include:

  • How did their last appraisal go? You could review and discuss this or their job description.
  • How do they like to communicate and be managed?
  • What systems work well?
  • What suggestions do they have for improvement in their area of work?
  • What suggestions do they have for overall improvement?
  • What are their aspirations?
  • How do those aspirations fit your vision?
  • What is their background and experience?

Other stakeholders

Schools and MATs have governors and trustees, who are key to support the development of the school. As soon as possible, work with them to gain an understanding of their hopes and expectations and how they work as a team. Although the first few months are a busy period in your new role, make attending meetings in the first term a priority. Your presence at the meetings will give you a useful insight into some of these key areas, and will also make you more trusted as a ‘visible’ leader. Additionally, reviewing previous minutes and observations at meetings will help you get a real feel for the areas of interest and need, and the skills and experiences of colleagues involved.

Similarly, being involved in senior leadership team (SLT) meetings in school can be a huge advantage. Working alongside the key players in your school will not only help you become aware of some of the key operational issues, but will also allow you to get to grips with processes and systems at work.

Early days: getting to know the school

As you become familiar with the people in your school, consider also the written information available to you. What do the accounts tell you? All schools have a whole host of information available which will help further your understanding of the school’s performance and direction. Consider, for example:

  • Ofsted reports
  • annual accounts
  • the school improvement/development plan
  • governors/trustee minutes
  • audit and inspection reports
  • headteachers’ reports
  • compliance monitoring records
  • management accounts.

What do you do with all of this information? 

Undoubtedly your ‘honeymoon’ period in your new role will not be a leisurely stroll in the park, as day-to-day challenges will come your way with increasing frequency as you become established as a new leader. Even so, you will rapidly gain an understanding of how your school works, and the challenges it faces on a daily and long-term basis. With this wealth of information already onboard, you can shape the positive contributions and impact you make to support, improve and develop systems and processes within your setting.

Consider these ten Cs of successful leadership: calm, challenge, collaboration, collegiate, commitment, completion, confidence, consideration, consistency and consultation (see Handout – Ten Cs of successful leadership in the Toolkit). Use these to give you an overview of how you can shape the positive contributions and the impact you make to support, improve, and develop systems and processes within your setting.

And finally, enjoy your new role. This is an exciting opportunity to contribute not only directly to the school, but also to the lives and education of the pupils who learn within its buildings each day. By establishing a good working relationship with your colleagues and a strong understanding of the school, you can affect the community in a positive way for many months and years to come.


Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Nathan Waites has a decade’s experience as a School Business Leader in a variety of maintained and independent schools. He is currently Chief Financial & Operating Officer for The De Curci Trust, and is also a Fellow and member of the Advisory Panel of the ISBL. You can contact him at

Last modified on Monday, 03 December 2018 10:48

Only subscribers can access this information. Subscribe now, click below!