The reforms that transformed school leadership in England

Global evidence concludes that improving the quality of school leadership is one of the most powerful tools available to education policymakers: build the capacity of school principals to lead change in schools, and higher student achievement surely follows. With this is mind, EdDevTrust considers the case of England, where the quality of school leadership across more than 20,000 schools has been transformed through an integrated set of policy choices.

Teaching quality is not enough for school improvement; a school’s effectiveness is also determined in significant measure by how well it is led. Good leaders influence their schools’ results most decisively by concentrating on the things that matter. Above all, they make sure that teaching and learning are effective by continuously and visibly checking the quality of classroom work and by encouraging teachers to act as a team to improve their practice.  

Evidence from the OECD suggests that school leaders in England are among the most effective in the world. In recent years, public policy in England has shifted from ‘top-down’ reform, typified by the National Strategies, towards promoting system-wide improvement led by schools themselves. In this decentralising context, schools have been given high levels of autonomy and accountability for improvement, and school leaders have taken on an increasingly critical role in school reform. 

Our full report, available to download, explores the key components of the policy reforms in school leadership in England since 2000, their impact, and some essential lessons of relevance to other education systems. They are: 

Key reform 1 – A national agency dedicated to driving school leadership development  

Key reform 2 – A national qualification for first-time school principals  

Key reform 3 – Using outstanding school leaders as a system-wide resource – as National and Local Leaders of Education  

Key reform 4 – Widening the influence of highly successful schools in raising teaching standards  

Key reform 5 – Growing the next generation of talented school leaders. 


Read the full report for more detail on these reforms.