Executive Summary

The world that our learners will enter when they leave school has changed dramatically from the world that traditional education prepared students for. The changes are ongoing and our education system must meet the challenges they pose.

The Education Review Office (ERO) visited 12 schools to see how they were preparing their students as 21st century learners. Leaders were innovative, rethinking and transforming teaching and learning to equip students with the knowledge, skills and qualifications required for their future. In doing so, they also maximised learning opportunities offered by digital technology and flexible learning spaces

ERO’s findings show that to be successful innovators school leaders:

  • are proactive in working with the whole school community to develop a strong, future-focused vision for their school
  • ensure the vision has learner outcomes at its centre
  • are well-informed, so that decisions build on best practice for 21st century learners
  • have a growth mindset
  • are supportive of experimentation
  • quickly address elements of strategy if they are not working
  • develop a school culture of continuous improvement to support the vision
  • maintain coherence across all domains of the school, aligning everything to the vision
  • are effective change managers able to take staff with them on the improvement journey through timely professional development and good communication


  • have a growth mindset, committed to working in new ways
  • work collaboratively
  • personalise curriculum and pedagogy tailored to individual learner needs.

The report also describes how different schools addressed challenges they encountered.

Some of these schools have traditional classrooms, some have older buildings that have been renovated, and some have new buildings; some have digital devices throughout the school and some do not. Digital technology and flexible learning spaces can certainly aid innovation but are not in and of themselves the critical elements. What is critical is the teaching, personalised and focused on valued student outcomes.

While all schools are different, each school can nevertheless establish its own innovative learning environment[1]. How it does this will be unique, but it is likely to align with the examples of good practice described in this report.

The appendices to this report provide resources that can guide thinking, promote discussion, and assist with internal evaluation.

This report should encourage school leaders and teachers to be innovative, to see:

  • that student success is more than academic achievement
  • that effective teaching and learning always has a future focus
  • the necessity to personalise learning to meet diverse student needs
  • that continuous improvement is not only possible but necessary
  • where they need to focus their improvement efforts
  • ways in which they can make a difference, whether or not they have modern buildings or digital devices for everyone
  • that change can reignite them as professionals.

Above all, we hope the report gives leaders and teachers the confidence to change what they need to change, and to put in place evidence-supported practices that will equip all their students to be successful in their future.

[1] This refers to the whole context in which learning takes place. It encompasses the physical space, the social aspects and the pedagogy experienced by the learners.