Leadership that works matters in education. After classroom teaching, the quality and capability of school leadership is the most significant in school influence on student outcomes.[2] Our education system aspires to both excellence and equity of outcomes for students, so a high priority for our system is to understand and apply school leadership that works.[3]

The Education Review Office (ERO) evaluation findings combined with the best evidence synthesis programme[4] identify what needs to happen across the education sector to improve student achievement and attain equity and excellence. Collectively, we need to put a greater focus on how to get the changes we know are needed.

International research shows school leadership influences teaching and learning both directly and indirectly.[5] ERO has found that direct leadership from the principal or senior school leaders can be especially influential on staff's expectations, pedagogical practices and professional working culture. International research also suggests that leadership development for potential new leaders is important for system lift in all OECD countries.

Leadership is a key factor in successful change. Principals and other school leaders have a fundamental role to play to achieve overall system improvement for our children. ERO's findings about leaders who are successful at implementing change to improve performance for all learners show that change leaders:

  • collaboratively develop and pursue the school's vision, goals and targets for equity and excellence
  • ensure an orderly and supportive environment that is conducive to student learning and wellbeing
  • ensure effective planning, coordination and evaluation of the school's curriculum and teaching
  • promote and participate in teacher learning and development
  • build collective capacity to do evaluation and inquiry for sustained improvement
  • build relational trust and effective collaboration at every level of the school community.

It is the combination of these characteristics and how they work with each other that generates the degree of effectiveness. Effective school leaders influence other people in the school and local community so they think and act differently when progressing important shared tasks for educational purposes.

Leaders apply this influence either directly, through face-to-face contact and communication, or indirectly, by creating relevant conditions and organisational culture across the school. Effective school leaders focus most of their leadership work on influencing those shared educational tasks that make a difference for student learning and, in particular, that improve student outcomes for increasingly diverse learners.[6]

The School Evaluation Indicators: Effective Practice for Improvement and Learner Success[7] are based on research and evaluation findings linked to student outcomes, school effectiveness and improvement. This evaluation illustrates the leadership domain of the School Evaluation Indicators by drawing together ERO's findings based on recent evaluative work with school leaders. We begin with the School Evaluation Indicators section on leadership for equity and excellence. We then present key findings that illustrate how school leadership works in practice in our schools in different contexts and settings.

These findings come from a wide range of ERO's national evaluations completed in the last five years. Through our programme of national evaluations, ERO gathers system-wide information on a variety of educational issues, reporting on overall sector performance and highlighting good practice. Across recent evaluations ERO has collected examples of the kinds of practices that highly effective school leaders engage in to raise achievement and engagement in our schools.[8]

This resource is aimed at all school leaders, but especially those less experienced leaders who may be seeking to become more successful by learning from the good practice of others. It includes effective practice examples to inspire improvement in school leadership.

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[2]     Leithwood, K. et al. (2007). Seven Strong Claims about Successful School Leadership. Nottingham: NCSL: p3.

[3]     Ministry of Education. (2014). Aspiration and Achievement: Education System Briefing to Incoming Minister, September 2014. Wellington: The Ministry Briefing Paper: p18.

[4]     Ministry of Education. Best Evidence Synthesis Programme. Retrieved from topics/BES

[5]     Leithwood, K. et al. (2009). Successful School Leadership: What it is and how it influences pupil learning. Nottingham: National College of School Leadership and University of Nottingham.

[6]      Robinson V. et al. (2009). School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying What Works and Why. Wellington. The Ministry BES Programme: p68.

[7]       Education Review Office. (2015). School Evaluation Indicators: Effective Practice for improvement and learner success. Wellington: the Office: pp26-27.

[8]      See Appendix 1 for a list of the reports used in this synthesis.