. . the Overall Performance of a School Almost Never Exceeds the Quality of Its Leadership

. . the Overall Performance of a School Almost Never Exceeds the Quality of Its Leadership

Forbairt 2015

. . . the overall performance of a school almost never exceeds the quality of its leadership and management. For every 100 schools that have good leadership and management, 93 will have good standards of student achievement. For every 100 schools that do not have good leadership and management, only one will have good standards of achievement.

A large number of quantitative studies in North America . . . show that school leadership influences performance more than any other variable except socio-economic background and the quality of teaching.

A major study of improving schools found that “there are statistically significant empirical and qualitatively robust associations between heads’ educational values, qualities, and their strategic actions and improvement in school conditions leading to improvements in student outcomes.”Barber, Whelan and Clark (2010)

John West-Burnham

The conceptual frame for education

19th Century Educational Imaginary / 21st Century Educational Imaginary
Students are prepared for a fixed situation in life/ career progression. / Students’ identities and destinations are fluid – multiple career pathways.
Schools ignore social and economic factors / Schools are active in family and community engagement
Intelligence is fixed. / Intelligence is multi-dimensional and can be developed.
The curriculum is a body of definitive knowledge / Knowledge is co created and widely distributed
Access to quality teaching and learning is variable. Automatic, chronological cohort progression. / Schooling provides personalized learning for all.
Assessment is summative, prescribed and monotechnic / Assessment is formative, negotiated and multi-media
Schools work on the factory model. / Any time, any place learning.
The nature of education is defined by educational institutions / The nature of education is defined by democratic communities
Schools, teachers and learners work autonomously. / Schools educators and learners work collaboratively in complex, multi-media, networks.
Schooling is provider led. Schools have rigid and clear boundaries and outcomes. / Education is user led and life-long for every student.

Education Imaginaries (after Hargreaves 2004 p30-32)

Taylor (2004:23) defines a social imaginary as:

. . . the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations.

1. Effective leadership: values and purpose

The leadership characteristics of schools in Tower Hamlets:

•They have consistent, high expectations and are very ambitious for the success of their pupils.

•They constantly demonstrate that disadvantage need not be a barrier to achievement.

•They focus relentlessly on improving teaching and learning with very effective professional development of all staff.

•They are expert at assessment and the tracking of pupil progress with appropriate support and intervention based upon a detailed knowledge of individual pupils.

•They are highly inclusive, having complete regard for the progress and personal development of every pupil.

•They develop individual students through promoting rich opportunities for learning both within and out of the classroom.

•They cultivate a range of partnerships particularly with parents, business and the community to support pupil learning and progress.

•They are robust and rigorous in terms of self-evaluation and data analysis with clear strategies for improvement.

(Transforming Education for All: the Tower Hamlets Story)

Leadership / Management / Administration
Principle / Doing the right things / Doing things right / Doing things
Purpose / Path making / Path following / Path tidying
People / Engaging with complexity / Creating clarity / Securing consistency

The urgent and the important

2. Distributing and sharing leadership through trust

In their research into high performing elementary schools in Chicago, Bryk and Schneider found a high correlation between the levels of trust in a school and its capacity to improve. Schools with a high level of trust at the outset of a programme to improve maths and reading had a 1in 2 chance of improving. Schools with relatively low levels of trust had only a 1 in 7 chance of improving. Schools in the latter category that did improve made significant gains in their levels of trust as a pre-requisite to raising attainment.

If you want to change any relationship you have to behave your way into it. Trust comes after good experiences. (Fullan 2010:97)

These ‘good experiences’ might be said to include empathy, goodwill, openness, honesty, respect, reliability and reciprocity – there are plenty of words to describe the emotional responses that seem to capture the essence of trust.

Credibility + consistency + competence = confidence = trust

In their most recent work Bryk and his colleagues (2010:45-46) report on a detailed and systematic longitudinal study carried out since 1989 looking at over 100 schools that have improved compared with over 100 schools that have declined. The key differences between the schools has enabled the identification of a key element of improvement

. . trust represents the social energy, or the “oven’s heat,” necessary for transforming these basic ingredients into comprehensive school change. Absent the social energy provided by trust, improvement initiatives are unlikely to culminate in meaningful change, regardless of their intrinsic merit. (2010:1

Personal Power
Low trust
Dependency / Mature
Shared authority
High trust
Control / Delegation / Empowerment / Subsidiarity

This diagram shows the stages in moving from the immature organization based on control to the fully mature one based on subsidiarity; the movement away from control is characterised by a growth in trust.

3. Effective professional learning

Promoting and participating in teacher learning and development.
Effect size 0.84 / The leader participates in the learning as leader, learner or both. The contexts for such learning are both formal and informal.
Establishing goals and expectations
Effect size 0.42 / Leadership makes a difference to students through its emphasis on clear academic and learning goals. In a work environment where multiple conflicting demands can make everything seem equally important, goals establish what is relatively more or less important
Planning, coordinating and evaluating teaching and the curriculum
Effect size 0.42 / 1 Involving staff in discussions of teaching
2 Working with staff to coordinate and review the curriculum
3 Providing feedback to teachers, based on classroom observations that they report as useful in improving their teaching;
4 Systematic monitoring of student progress for the purpose of improvement at school department and class level
Strategic resourcing
Effect size 0.31 / This leadership dimension is about securing and allocating material and staffing resources that are aligned to pedagogical purposes.
Ensuring an orderly and supportive environment
Effect size 0.27 / This dimension describes those leadership practices that ensure that teachers can focus on teaching and students can focus on learning

Robinson’s conclusion provides a powerful vindication of the refocusing of leadership that is taking place in many education systems:

The main conclusion to be drawn from the present analyses is that particular types of school leadership have substantial impacts on student outcomes. The more leaders focus their influence, their learning, and their relationships with teachers on the core business of teaching and learning, the greater their likely influence on student outcomes.

Robinson V M J (2011) Student-Centered Leadership San Francisco Jossey-Bass

The relative impact of learning strategies



Where would you place each of the following on the diagram above going from bottom left to top right in terms of personal impact and deep learning?

Experiential learning, teaching, facilitation, coaching and mentoring, friendship, training, action learning.

Mentoring and Coaching

Coaching / Mentoring / Counselling
- a short-term intervention to provide explicit support in developing specific skills, techniques and strategies / - a sustained, one-to-one relationship based in trust in which the mentor actively supports the learner to build capacity to enhance personal effectiveness / - a therapeutic relationship which is designed to support personal change and enhance well-being

The impact of coaching/mentoring can be demonstrated by reference to the work of Joyce and Showers:

5% of learners will transfer a new skill into their practice as a result of theory.
10% will transfer a new skill into their practice as a result of theory and demonstration.
20% will transfer a new skill into their practice as a result of theory, demonstration and practice.
25% will transfer a new skill into their practice as a result of theory, demonstration, practice and feedback.
90% will transfer a new skill into their practice as a result of theory, demonstration, practice, feedback and coaching.
Joyce, B.R. & Showers, B. (1983:9)

One of the key insights in learning theory is Benjamin Bloom’s (1964) discussion of solutions to what he calls ‘the two sigma’ problem. Bloom shows that students provided with individual tutors typically perform at a level about two standard deviations (two sigma) above where they would perform with standard group instruction. This means that a person who would score at the 50th percentile on a standardized test after regular group instruction would score at the 98th percentile if personalized tutoring replaced group instruction.

Comparing and contrasting CPD and JPD

Characteristics / CPD / JPD
Type / Presentations and ‘talk and discuss” mode. 40-60 teachers from random backgrounds not always linked to alliances or partnerships / 2 teachers from each of 7 alliance schools undertake an action-learning project to develop and research through lesson study
Duration / 1 day event / 1 introductory day, regular meetings e.g.4 twilight sessions, classroom observations and time to plan and review
Delivery / Expert presenters from LA, HEI or commercial provider present knowledge and provide resources. / 2 expert teachers facilitate programme and provide coaching. A Lesson study approach is adopted to apply and refine the approach.
Teachers work in groups to review outcomes of observations.
Successful strategies are identified, refined and agreed
Outcomes / Perhaps a presentation or summary at a staff meeting or school based CPD event when materials are shared. / Findings are embedded into a school strategy and the learning process is adapted as the means of implementation
Impact and implications for practice / Uncertain and tentative.
Uncertain cost-effectiveness / Potential to have a direct bearing on school policies and strategies
High credibility and likelihood of acceptance.

(NCTL 2014)

“Lesson Study is a breathtakingly simple and common sense way of developing teachers’ practice knowledge: i.e. teachers’ knowledge of how best to teach X to pupils like Y. In a lesson study, a group of teachers work together to plan, deliver and analyse a series of ‘research lessons’ or ‘study lessons’ devised to improve the way they teach something or the way particular learners learn something. They record what they discover or develop and pass this knowledge on to others by inviting people to watch them demonstrate the approach in a public research lesson – or by writing it up and publishing it online.

Pete Dudley

4. The Leadership of Learning

Southworth (2004) defines three of the elements in the following terms:


Modelling is concerned with the power of example. Teachers and headteachers believe in setting an example because they know this influences pupils and colleagues alike. Research shows that teachers watch their leaders closely. And teachers watch what their leaders do in order to check if leaders’ actions are consistent over time and to test whether leaders do as they say. Teachers do not follow leaders who cannot ‘walk the talk’.

Monitoring and evaluation

Monitoring includes analysing and acting on pupil progress and outcome data (e.g. assessment and test scores, evaluation data, school performance trends, parental opinion surveys, pupil attendance data, pupil interview information). Leadership is stronger and more effective when it is informed by data on pupils’ learning, progress and achievements as will as by direct knowledge of all teaching practices and classroom dynamics. The outcomes of monitoring need to be synthesised and evaluated against the school’s planning in order to inform judgements and identify future priorities.


Dialogue in this context is about creating opportunities for teachers to talk with their colleagues about learning and teaching. The kinds of dialogues that influence what happens in classrooms are focused on learning and teaching. Leaders create the circumstances to meet with colleagues and discuss pedagogy and pupil learning.

Coaching and mentoring

(See above)


5. Securing improvement by preventing failure and marginal gains

Predict and prevent is essentially the same as ‘prevention is better than cure’ – it involves moving the culture of a team or department from reaction to anticipation and intervention, crucially the willingness to intervene. There are numerous examples of this approach from everyday life – the best way to avoid a heart attack is to stop smoking, not to invest in more cardiac surgeons, the most effective way to maintain your car’s efficiency is to have it regularly serviced.

The ‘Checklist Manifesto’ is a book by Atul Gawande, a surgeon who was concerned that so many patients seemed to suffer serious complications or die unexpectedly in the days after their operation. His analysis led to the conclusion that many of these problems were caused by operating staff failing to follow basic procedures. Gawande developed a 19-point checklist to be read out before and during each operation to ensure that all of the simple, but essential procedures were followed. The outcome was a marked decrease (30%) in the number of patients becoming seriously ill or dying after surgery.

In his book Gawande makes the distinction between errors of ignorance (mistakes we make because we don’t know enough), and errors of ineptitude (mistakes we made because we don’t make proper use of what we know). Failure in the modern world, he writes, is really about the second of these errors, and he shows how the routine tasks of surgeons have now become so incredibly complicated that mistakes of one kind or another are virtually inevitable: it’s just too easy for an otherwise competent doctor to miss a step, or forget to ask a key question or, in the stress and pressure of the moment, to fail to plan properly for every eventuality. This is exactly the point about effective management, however inspirational the leadership of a surgeon hands must be washed and swabs counted!

The best way to close the gap is to prevent children failing and that means actively challenging poor and inappropriate performance and that in turn means identifying, defining and embedding appropriate performance. While there are a range of strategies and techniques that can help to manage the problem of variation it is important that such interventions are reinforced and corroborated by a culture of prevention – in other words it is not just what we do, it is the way that things are done.

The theory of Marginal Learning Gains is inspired by the philosophy that underpinned the extraordinary success of Team GB Cycling at the Beijing and London Olympics and of the Team Sky Pro Cycling Team at the 2012 Tour de France. When Sir Dave Brailsford became performance director of British Cycling, he set about breaking down the objective of winning races into its component parts. The philosophy is simple: focus on doing a number of few small things really well. Once you do this, aggregating the gains you make will become part of a bigger impact on learning.

The doctrine of marginal gains is all about small incremental improvements in any process adding up to a significant improvement when they are all added together.It is perhaps most easy to understand by considering the approach of Sir Dave Brailsford. Brailsford believed that if it was possible to make a 1% improvement in a whole host of areas, the cumulative gains would end up being hugely significant.

He was on the look-out for all the weaknesses in the team's assumptions, all the latent problems, so he could improve on each of them.

  • By experimenting in a wind tunnel, he noted that the bike was not sufficiently aerodynamic.
  • By analysing the mechanics area in the team truck, he discovered that dust was accumulating on the floor, undermining bike maintenance. So he had the floor painted pristine white, in order to spot any impurities.
  • The team started to use antibacterial hand gel to cut down on infections.
  • When he became general manager of Team Sky, he redesigned the team bus to improve comfort and recuperation.
  • They started to probe deeper into untested assumptions, such as the dynamic relationship between the intensity of the warm-down and speed of recovery.

6. Collaboration

There is evidence that the process of change is more resilient and improvement more sustainable when school collaborate and learn from other schools. Schools that sustain improvement are usually well networked and have a good structure of internal support.

While such schools may be considered to be leading the way for others to follow, the reciprocal nature of the relationship and the opportunities for schools to innovate together means there is added value in both directions from these forms of collaboration. (Leithwood et al 2010: 238)

David Hargreaves (2011:17) provides a powerful and graphic example of the potential of collaboration by comparing two centres of innovation in the information science industries – Silicon Valley and Route 128 near Boston quoting Saxenian (1994) Hargreaves demonstrates the differences between the two centres. Route 128:

. . . is based on independent firms that internalise a wide range of productive activities. Practices of secrecy and corporate loyalty govern relations between firms and their customers, suppliers and competitors, reinforcing a regional culture that encourages stability and self-reliance. Corporate hierarchies ensure that authority remains centralised and information tends to flow vertically. The boundaries between and within firms and between firms and local institutions thus remain... distinct in this independent firm-based system (Saxenian, 1994: 3).