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Capturing the leadership premium

Nothing influences school standards more than the quality of head teachers. This review shows how the world’s top school systems are building their teaching leadership.

This review represents one of the first attempts to conduct an international comparison of school leadership through a survey of experts, policy makers, and more than 1,800 head teachers across eight high-performing school systems.

The review established that there is a consensus about the importance of school leadership. Apart from classroom teaching, nothing influences improvements in school standards more than the quality of head teachers. Wherever they are in the world, good head teachers share many common attributes and approach the role in similar ways. They spend more time coaching and developing their teaching staff as well as interacting with students and pupils. They help each other and establish networks and clusters, which they then use for learning and development and for providing support to weaker schools.

Good education systems find leaders for today, whereas the best systems grow them for tomorrow. And good leadership at the local administrative level is critical to driving improvement across all schools. There is much to learn from these examples of good practice, but we are still a long way from capturing the leadership premium, one of the most important drivers of improvement in schools.

Download the full report on which this article is based, Capturing the leadership premium (PDF–1.5MB).

About the author(s)

Sir Michael Barber and Michael Clark are alumni of McKinsey's London office, and Fenton Whelan is an alumnus of the Dubai and London offices.

The authors would like to thank the many individuals around the world who gave their time and support to the International Review of School Leadership, including those who agreed to be interviewed and who completed the survey. The National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services provided support and guidance without which the Review would not have been possible, as well as contributing greatly to the discussions around the findings. The authors also wish to thank Usamah Chaudhary, Darren Thomason, and Mark Hardwick for their contributions to this article.

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