School governance and succession planning: Planning for the leader you need

by Association of Independent Schools of Queensland


New Zealand, like Australia, has a shortage of teachers who express an interest in becoming principals of schools. Cathy Wylie’s research from NZCER makes this point very clearly. We need to address the issue of succession planning for school leadership, and to present a positive image of the role of a school principal. Aspiring leaders need opportunities for professional learning and encouragement to consider taking on the complex, but very rewarding, role of principal.

This short paper (which could be very useful for boards of trustees as well) provides sensible, practical, do-able strategies for schools to consider in preparation for succession planning. It also raises points about what may be stopping teachers from applying, including issues around equity, such as gender. These points have emerged in New Zealand research as well.

While some of the suggestions are specific to Australia and to independent schools, there is enough that is also relevant to the New Zealand state school system. In particular, the point is made that within schools it is important to be encouraging and to provide opportunities for potential leaders to gain confidence and experience in leadership, and to begin to think about how they can plan their careers in preparation for the step towards school principalship.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this article:

  • How does your school go about providing a range of staff with leadership opportunities in order to develop their skills and aspirations?
  • This article suggests ways in which prospective leaders can be ‘groomed’ for their futures within a school. What do you think of these suggestions? Can you think of other ways of developing future leaders? What are the risks of a school identifying and ‘grooming’ future leaders within its own environment?
  • If we in New Zealand were to introduce a national initiative for developing aspiring principals, what key principles for identifying and developing potential leaders should it be based on?

Further reading

Brooking, K. (2007). Summary of the New Zealand literature on recruitment and retention of school leaders: Issues, challenges, trends and strategies for succession planning. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

Hodgen, E. & Wylie, C. (2005). Stress and wellbeing among New Zealand principals. (Report to the New Zealand Principals’ Federation). Wellington, New Zealand: New Zealand Council for Educational Research.


Association of Independent Schools of Queensland. 
(1 January 2003). School governance and succession planning: Planning for the leader you need. Curriculum Leadership.

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