Catalyst Programme 2021/22 brochure



Foreword by Steve McGuirk CBE, QFSM, DL, MA, BA(Hons), BSc, FIFireE
Chairman of Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals FT and
NLC Advisory Board Member

It’s a real honour and pleasure to be asked to support this important new programme – Catalyst; to act as a champion on behalf of the wider Board and, of course, to say a few words of introduction about why I think it is so important.

I was privileged to be a member of the original Public Sector Leadership Task Force in 2017, and the Task Force’s work provided the stimulus for the creation of the National Leadership Centre (NLC). I have very much enjoyed being part of the journey of the NLC since its formation. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, it has gone from strength to strength. 

The NLC has provided an important conduit through which public leaders have been able to connect, to support and to mentor each other, and, crucially, to figure out different ways to collaborate at a very practical level to deliver a vital public services’ system.  I should add that this is not just my rose-coloured view of the situation – it is backed up by an independent evaluation of the NLC public leaders programme, as well as amazing examples of where better cooperation has happened on the ground in the recently published Public Leaders Report (2021). 

In support of the goal to deliver world-class public services (no leadership programme foreword would be complete without a ‘world class’ preface somewhere), the NLC has also developed the Accelerate programme, targeted at improving ethnic diversity across the public leadership spectrum. And of course, it is right that we make better efforts to tackle gender issues and ensure equal opportunities for aspiring leaders from Black, Asian, and other ethnic minority backgrounds. But the diversity challenge is complex and, in many respects, the work to understand and support the problems facing disabled leaders is much more limited and even less well understood.

Disabled people might have long-term physical disabilities or health conditions, learning disabilities and neurodivergence, and/or sensory impairments. They might have one condition or multiple and the people concerned might not always be, or have been, disabled. The common factor, however, is that they are often hindered from fully participating in society on an equal basis to non-disabled people. A person is often not disabled by their specific health condition, but by the fact that social and organisational systems exclude them as a result. So, if you thought public leadership was a tough task for  anyone (and it is) …being a leader, and simultaneously living with a disability, demands incredible personal resilience and adds a whole new layer of toughness to the leadership task.

The Catalyst programme seeks to help those leaders with a bespoke programme designed to empower disabled people to push for – and break through – the highest levels of public leadership in the same ways as non-disabled leaders. Catalyst will create a network of people to sustain peer support and peer mentoring and create the opportunity for people to share their experiences about what works and what doesn’t! It will encompass similar content to the other NLC programmes, as well as exposing delegates to inspiring case studies and inspiring people. Most of all, I believe it will be, as the name suggests, a catalyst for liberating a pool of enormously talented leaders who will make a huge difference to the way public services are delivered in the next few years.

About the National Leadership Centre

The National Leadership Centre was launched by the Government in 2019, and it works across UK public services, with senior leaders in the Civil Service, local government, health, education, police, military and others. The NLC works only with the most senior leaders, typically those who have recently reached Chief Executive level or equivalent. Given this scope, the NLC also plays a coordinating and convening role across service-specific leadership academies, including the Defence Academy, National Health Service Leadership Academy, Civil Service Leadership Academy, as well as Solace and the Local Government Association.

Since July 2020, the NLC has integrated with other functions engaged in training, career pathways and skills, to establish a ‘Government Skills and Curriculum Unit’. Its goal is to realise the Learning Campus vision of a ‘core curriculum’, universal to specialist, entry level to senior leader, defined with and through Departments, Professions, and Academies. 

The NLC programmes, and contribution to the design and delivery of formal and informal training, will break down barriers between Policy and Operations, between London and the rest of the country, and between Civil and Public Service. The Unit’s Leadership Advisory Board is chaired by Dame Sara Thornton.

The NLC aims to help senior leaders work together to improve public services, by supporting increased collaboration and innovation across the whole public sector system.

The NLC has three core objectives:

  1. Demonstrably improve the quality of public service leadership;
  2. Facilitate effective collaboration between public service leaders, and;
  3. Through research, improve the understanding of public sector leadership and its relationship with social and economic outcomes.

Our work has three strands:

  1. Programme – three intensive professional programmes: the flagship NLC programme for around 100 top public service leaders, the Accelerate programme for 20 high-performing ethnic minority public service leaders and the Catalyst programme for 20 senior leaders with a disability and/or long-term condition.
  2. Network – a professional hub for all public service leaders, not just those served by the programme, to support communication between leaders and subject matter experts.
  3. Research – to better understand public service leadership and the impact of the NLC.

We define success as:

  • Demonstrably improving the quality of leadership of public services.
  • Facilitating wider and more effective collaboration between public service leaders.
  • Helping public service leaders to become more resilient, more adaptive to change and more innovative.
  • Improving the understanding of public sector leadership and its relationship with social and economic well-being.

What is the Catalyst Programme?

The National Leadership Centre Catalyst Programme brings together high performing leaders with a disability and/or long-term health condition from across public services who are aiming to become senior leaders within their respective fields. The programme acts as a talent pipeline into the flagship National Leadership Centre Programme.

People with disabilities and/or long-term health conditions may experience similar challenges in their everyday lives despite having differing disabilities. The NLC Catalyst programme does not focus on specific disabilities, but rather the broader challenges people with disabilities and/or long-term health conditions can face as well as offering the opportunity to widen your network beyond the service you work within, and increase your experience of senior leadership.

We will stretch you with stimulating content and inspiring speakers which will draw on your skills and experience as an effective leader.

Themes that will be covered include:

  • Storytelling and finding you narrative as a leader;
  • Increasing resilience and recharging energy;
  • Understanding the executive recruitment process;
  • Personal impact training;
  • Organisational leadership.

Who our Programme is for

We strongly believe that public service leaders should represent the people they serve. This programme is exclusive to leaders with disabilities and/or long-term health conditions, currently working at Deputy Chief Executive level (and equivalent) from publicly funded organisations delivering public services, who are hoping to secure senior leadership roles within the next 3-5 years. This includes, but is not exclusive to:

  • Deputy Chief Executives of Further Education Colleges
  • Deputy Chief Executives of Multi-Academy Trusts
  • Pro-Vice-Chancellors / Deputy Vice-Chancellors of Universities
  • Deputy/Assistant Chief Executives of Local Authorities
  • Deputy Chief Executives of NHS Trusts
  • Deputy Chief Constables of Police Services
  • Deputy Fire Officers of Fire and Rescue Services
  • Directors across the Civil Service
  • Directors / Deputy Chief Executives of Arms Length Bodies
  • One-star and Two-star Military Officers

The NLC uses the Equality Act 2010 to define disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

For more information, please visit: Definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010.

If you are unsure whether this programme is right for you, you are very welcome to get in touch with Mariesa Howlett, Learning and Development Specialist at the National Leadership Centre for a conversation. Her email address is:

Given the seniority of the cohort, we will take up to 20 delegates.

Key Dates and Time Commitment

This programme runs over one year (November 2021 to October 2022) and will involve:

Recruitment and selection

  • Applications open on 1 September, 2021.
  • The deadline for application is 12pm 24 September, 2021.
  • Outcome of applications and diagnostic evaluations begin on 6 October, 2021.

Formal learning activities

  • Launch event on 18 October, 2021
  • 1:1 coaching in December 2021 and March 2022
  • The three day residential will be Sunday 23 January to Wednesday 26 January, 2022.
  • Close event in October 2022

Ongoing activities

  • Reflective practice sessions: six sessions throughout the year
  • Sponsorship: quarterly
  • Self-reflection activities: ongoing
  • NLC leadership events: ongoing


As a delegate, the NLC will match you with a sponsor as part of the programme.

Sponsorship can involve spotlighting specific job and project opportunities for high-potential individuals so that they can learn and extend their skills from new experiences. They will have a personal commitment to recognise and give visibility to you as an individual; this could involve increasing visibility of the work you do or by widening your network of senior leaders.

Your sponsor will be a senior leader (CEO/Director General level or equivalent) who will be briefed on their role prior to being matched with you.

Sponsors will be asked to:

  • be available to support participants in their career and provide exposure to opportunities and wider networks;
  • be an advocate for the individual and offer opportunities to the participant that they may not normally have access to;
  • look out for opportunities for the individual in areas that have been discussed as developmental;
  • offer career advice, support and provide constructive challenge to help the individual to take on unfamiliar tasks to support their development.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the cost commitment?
A: The National Leadership Centre covers course costs, including food and accommodation for all residentials. Delegates will be expected to claim back expenses (including travel) from their employers. Participants are expected to attend all residential sessions and opening and closing events. If participants do not attend compulsory elements of the programme, we will seek to recoup some or all of these costs from employers. Please see our terms and conditions for further information.

Q: I can’t spare the time this year, can I book a place on next year’s course?
A: We are currently inviting delegates for 2021-22. We will be setting out further detail of our selection process for future years in due course, but a place this year does not guarantee a place on a future cohort.

Q: How do I apply?
A: Your leadership academy will receive information about this programme at the start of September and will be able to discuss with you further. If you are interested in participating, please complete this application form by 12pm on Friday 24th September 2021.

The NLC will review applications and decide on the final selection, in collaboration with Leadership Academies. Delegates will be assessed on their answer to the smart survey question: Why would you like to take part in the programme? (Please limit your answer to 150 words).

Q: Who can I contact for more information?
A: If you would like more information on the programme, please email the Programme Team via:

Terms and Conditions

  1. This agreement is between you and your organisation, and The Minister for the Cabinet Office of 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ acting on behalf of the Crown and through the National Leadership Centre (the “NLC”).
  2. The NLC shall invite individual employees of the Organisation (the “Participant”) to attend a pilot leadership development course (the “Course”). If the Participant wishes to attend the Course, the Participant shall confirm their intention to attend within 14 calendar days of such an invitation.
  3. The Course shall commence in October 2021 (the “Start Date”) and shall consist of a pre-course assessment, webinars, residential training days (a “Residential Training Day”), sponsorship and other ad hoc events and sessions.
  4. The NLC will cover the costs of all learning, accommodation and sustenance during the Course. This includes the cost of speakers, facilitators, trainers and accommodation on a full board basis.
  5. The Organisation and/or the Participant shall cover the cost of any additional accommodation required (i.e. dates before or after the Course), and any expenses incurred during the Course including but not limited to travel and additional services such as room service.
  6. Where the Participant has accepted a place on the Course pursuant to clause 1, the Organisation is not entitled to postpone that Participant’s attendance on the Course. The NLC will undertake reasonable endeavours to facilitate any request to postpone the Participant’s place but reserves the right to deny this request.
  7. Where a Participant has accepted a place on the Course, if a Participant needs to withdraw from the Course prior to the Start Date:
    1. The Organisation shall, in a timely manner, propose a replacement participant who shall have a similar level of experience and seniority as the Participant who accepted a place on the Course pursuant to clause 2; and
    2. The NLC shall, at its sole discretion, accept or reject the proposed replacement participant; and
    3. Where the NLC rejects the proposed replacement participant, the Participant’s place shall be cancelled and clause 8 shall apply.
  8. Where a Participant’s place on the Course is cancelled pursuant to clause 6, the Organisation shall pay:
    1. None of the Total Cost where such cancellation takes place more than 6 calendar months prior to the Start Date;
    2. 50% of the Total Cost where such cancellation takes place less than 6 but not more than one calendar month prior to the Start Date; or
    3. 100% of the Total Cost where such cancellation takes place less than 1 calendar month prior to the Start Date.
  9. The Organisation shall pay £3500 if the Participant fails to attend the Residential Event.
  10. Payments due under clauses 8 and 9 shall be made within 30 days of the NLC’s first request for payment. The NLC shall have the right to charge interest on late payments at 4% above the Bank of England’s base rate from time to time but at 4% per year for any period when that base rate is below 0%.
  11. The Organisation and the Participant acknowledge that confidential information may be disclosed during the Course and at any and all times shall:
    1. Keep any confidential information secret and confidential;
    2. Not use or exploit the confidential information in any way; and
    3. Not disclose the confidential information except to the extent required by law or any order of any court of competent jurisdiction or any regulatory, judicial, governmental or similar body of competent jurisdiction.
  12. In carrying out its obligations under this agreement, each party shall undertake to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 (the “Act”) including the GDPR regulations 2018 as applicable, when processing the other party’s personal data as defined in the Act. The NLC may share Participant’s personal data with third party suppliers for the purposes of arranging and facilitating the Course.
  13. The NLC reserves the right to cancel the Course at its sole discretion.
  14. This agreement and any dispute or claim (including non contractual disputes or claims) arising out of or in connection with it or its subject matter or formation shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the law of England and Wales.
  15. Each party irrevocably agrees that the courts of England and Wales shall have exclusive jurisdiction to settle any dispute or claim (including non contractual disputes or claims) arising out of or in connection with this agreement or its subject matter or formation.