Getting your application right for ISBL Fellowship

11 Jul 2019 | by Hayley Dunn

Recently, I had the opportunity to be a member of the Institute of School Business Leadership’s (ISBL) Fellowship Assessment Panel. As a fellow myself, it was an interesting opportunity to see it from the other side. I thought it would be useful to share some tips from ISBL Fellows who have been through the application process and assessed applications as part of the panel, which may be of help if you are writing an application.

The best applications show attention to detail; a well-presented, clear explanation of the impact of professional development; good examples of business management and leadership; and considered use of language. Let’s look at these in more detail.


Pay attention to detail, little things like how you present documents, clear referencing and using word counts as well are all important.

· Ask yourself: how does the statement you are making relate to the section you are completing? Make every word count. Does what you are saying add something important to your application? If it sounds like waffle, try taking it out!

· Social media and online forums are a useful way to show system and peer engagement, although not necessarily leadership. If you use this as an example, think about taking a screenshot of a discussion that shows impact.

· ‘I’ or ‘we’? The assessor is interested in your experience, skills and knowledge. Pay attention to the terminology.

Think about how the application will be read by the panel. The panel is made up of representatives from the institute and existing fellows, therefore they will understand many of the school and education acronyms. However, not all are used across the sector, for example, there are many that are specific to special schools. I found it useful to ask someone not linked to education to read my application.

Impact of CPD

You must communicate concisely the impact of learning and CPD activities you’ve undertaken. Your CPD log should have dates, timings, activities completed, how they were relevant and be well evidenced.

Many events and short courses no longer issue certificates routinely, but on request, most will provide you with one. The South Yorkshire School Business Leaders group advised that their members can download a certificate from the group’s forum once it has been confirmed that they attended the event.”

See the ISBL Fellowship application guidance for more information on what ISBL counts as CPD.


A panel member shared with me their view of what they are looking for from applicants: “I think aspirant Fellows should demonstrate how they really add value to the schools, and, to the wider system, in their own way.” I agree that this is what I would be looking for; the best fellowship applications should be supplemented with a portfolio of good examples of the applicant’s practice and impact - for example, detailed project reports and meeting minutes - and show how they meet the ISBL Professional Standards.

What are the best examples of your impact and experience?

I keep a presentation file with copies of examples of my work that I am proud of and an electronic reference log of articles and blogs that I have written with dates and hyperlinks. When I applied for Fellowship, I wanted to demonstrate my experience of school and system impact, along with wider sector engagement. I had a bank of evidence ready to go.

Consider these tips when reviewing and collating your evidence:

· Use a reference system for the supplementary documents that you are using as evidence and signpost them in your fellowship application form.

· Where possible always refer to examples of recent practice.

· If you are using minutes of a meeting, highlight where you are mentioned.

· Don’t provide data in isolation. Explain what it is showing, especially if you have extracted information from a larger document.

· If you are using several documents add a contents page.

· If you are referring to structural changes, use organisational charts.

· Create good-quality documents that support the statements you are making.


Make sure reports containing sensitive or personal information are properly redacted; respecting confidentiality is a key part of our role. As one assessor recommends: “Consider redacting areas/information where we may form an opinion from reading the evidence submitted, which may not be wanted to be public information.” For example, identifiable information about pupils or staff i.e. full names. See the ISBL Fellowship application guidance for more information.

Getting Started

If you work a full year, you could follow the idea shared by some of the Twitter school business professionals, of booking a day in the summer holiday, when you have uninterrupted time to think, to do the first draft of your application.

One ISBL Fellow shared with me how rewarding they found the process, “I found the whole application process a really rewarding experience, it made me reflect on what I actually had achieved, when in the current climate it is easy to get bogged down in the things we haven’t done, or can’t do anything about.”

To help you get started one assessor recommends preparing for your application by “mind-mapping your role, who you interact with, identifying significant projects, the immediate and ongoing impacts of the projects, and list what evidence you have to support this in your application.”

I hope these observations and tips will help you if you are preparing an application and may even make up your mind that it is time to make an application for ISBL Fellowship.

The ISBL Fellowship page also has a practical application tips presentation which you can use to help you with the structure and content of your application.