School improvement at scale: getting results from a school-led delivery model

Charlotte Jones and Matt Davis


This handbook discusses the challenges faced by policymakers when delivering national policy priorities in a highly decentralised school system. It looks at lessons from Education Development Trust's successful at-scale programmes in the UK, and the wider literature on system reform. Moving beyond a 'top down' delivery philosophy, it offers a new framework for making change stick, including looking at the important emerging role of change agents.

A new delivery infrastructure


The concept of school-led improvement is firmly embedded within the English education system, providing a compelling philosophy for how schools change and raise standards. It puts the onus on autonomous schools, leaders and practitioners to lead improvement locally, collaborating to use their best expertise, practice and resources for the benefit of all schools in an area. In other words, school partnerships – from structures like Teaching School Alliances to agents such as Local Leaders of Education – are England’s new delivery infrastructure for school improvement. It’s an infrastructure based on lateral support, peer-to-peer collaboration and highly decentralised decision-making.

The school-led  system at scale


We see two challenges emerging if this locally led system is to deliver results at scale. Firstly, policymakers will always need to deliver national priorities: at-scale initiatives that tackle systemic challenges or deliver new political commitments. So how can policymakers use this highly decentralised, lateral infrastructure to deliver on national-level promises?

Secondly, the impact of school-led improvement so far has been inconsistent. At Education Development Trust we have been privileged to work with leaders and teachers who deliver tangible differences through the school-led system. However, we know from conversations with practitioners across England that there is a challenge in replicating smaller-scale successes so that every school is supported and improved through this approach.

Getting beyond the theory


In part, these weaknesses are a result of a lack of research and analysis in this area. While schools are committed to the approach and there is a lot of innovative theoretical thinking about the school-led system, little is known about the practicalities of implementing this vision. For us, there is an urgent need to get beyond the theory. This is not just a concern for practitioners and those working out 'in the system'. We know that policymakers are passionate about schools as delivery partners, but they tell us it’s a challenge to remodel their delivery systems to fit the new school-led landscape.

How change happens at scale


Scaling this approach so that the benefits are felt consistently and universally has become an important next step for the English school system. If we have moved beyond initiatives such as the National Strategies, where large-scale 'outside' support helped provide common frameworks for improvement, what can government now do to effect change at scale? If all the resources and expertise are to be found within schools themselves, who ensures that local efforts are aligned to shared national priorities? This handbook aims to cut through complexity, offering a framework for implementation that will drive results as well as system-wide learning. At the heart of the new framework is a radical redefinition of delivery roles.

The aim of this handbook


Our aim is to draw attention to the implications of this shift, asking new questions about delivery at scale and sharing a proven framework for making change stick. It is the product of an ongoing dialogue between the authors and experts at Education Development Trust, who have worked together over the past five years to design, deliver and reflect on school-led delivery models across England. We continue to trial these approaches on a range of programmes, and invite partners and colleagues to join us in the debate and improvement of the ideas.


You can see a sample of our handbook, right; to find out more and to download the handbook in full, get in touch.


Contact us

Contact us

Get in touch to download the handbook in full

Contact us