Change agents: new evidence on instructional leadership at the middle tier

A collaboration between IIEP-UNESCO and Education Development Trust

A growing concern for education policymakers is how to improve teaching and learning quality at scale, and how to strengthen delivery systems to achieve this. IIEP-UNESCO and Education Development Trust see the ‘middle tier’ of education systems as a potential solution to this challenge. In a new research collaboration, we are investigating the potential of middle tier professionals – district supervisors, pedagogical coaches and teacher mentors – to act as catalysts for change in local school reforms. This is a neglected area of research and the new work will look at six case studies of effective or promising practice from around the world, in which the middle tier is playing a key role in scaling effective teaching and learning reforms.

The research questions are:

  • What can we learn from promising case studies about the potential for middle tier roles to make impact on teaching and learning quality?
  • How can these roles be recruited and strengthened to get value from their position as lynchpins in the education delivery chain?
  • How do these roles bring about wider changes such as mindset shifts and changes in professional cultures and practices, which contribute to teaching and learning quality?

There is a lack of recent evidence on the roles of middle-tier actors in education systems, and recent analysis suggests that there is an urgent need to understand this often-neglected element of the education workforce. Through wider research and commentary, Education Development Trust and IIEP-UNESCO have been important contributors to this emerging evidence base, which suggests that middle-tier roles can be lynchpins in education reform, and that how postholders work is as important as how their roles are designed and structured. It is increasingly clear that when middle-tier postholders can build the trust of schools and teachers, and develop a culture of school improvement, the pace of change is increased.

The EdDevTrust-IIEP-UNESCO research collaboration is building on this emerging evidence, responding to gaps in the literature to identify ‘what works’ at the middle-tier to best enable effective teaching and learning reforms. Ahead of a joint event on 7th October, we are sharing emerging findings from two of the six case studies in the research, illustrating promising practice where those at the middle tier are playing a key role in ensuring that reforms work at scale. Of these case studies, three are from research practices from within Education Development Trust’s own programmes (in Jordan, Rwanda, and Kenya), while three others (Delhi, Shanghai, and Wales – the latter of which had design input from Education Development Trust) have been selected by IIEP-UNESCO. In each of the case studies, explicit attention has been paid to recruitment and professional development for middle-tier postholders. Together, they offer insights into the characteristics of professional learning leaders at the middle tier – and what more can be done to support their potential as local change agents.

In addition to these early case study insights, we will be publishing a joint literature review in Autumn 2020 on current evidence on the middle tier. A report of the full findings from this collaboration will be available in Spring 2021.