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School improvement


What are the drivers for educational reform in the context of school improvement and system leadership?

There is a vast amount of evidence to support the common sense notion that individual schools can make a significant difference to students’ progress. The research, besides articulating the characteristics of effective schools, has demonstrated unequivocally that given the right conditions all students can learn.

School leadership in England has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. There is also a very clear storyline about the way in which school leadership has evolved over this period of time. The somewhat laissez-faire and paternalistic culture of leadership in the 1980s changed radically as a direct consequence of the introduction of Local Management of Schools (LMS) in the Education Reform Act 1988, which allowed all schools to be taken out of the direct financial control of local authorities.

By devolving resource allocation and priorities from local authorities to governors, headteachers de facto became considerably more autonomous. This autonomy, however, was tempered by the highly developed national accountability framework that held them accountable for school performance and subject to significant areas of national prescription.

Over the years, the shift from competition to collaboration and mutual support in the school system has been quite remarkable. So too has been the emergence of the role of ‘system leader’ – someone in a leadership capacity who is almost as concerned about the progress of another school as they are about their own.

In these articles, we consider a framework for assessing the direction of policy the emergence of system leadership; and the four drivers for educational reform that simultaneously raise standards of learning and achievement for students and build capacity in the school and system. They also explore the ‘instructional core’ within the dynamics of contemporary school work cultures, and what system leadership looks like and how we can move all this to scale.

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