Leadership and school management

With the sweeping changes to education policy, schools now have greater autonomy to make decisions about how they are led and managed. Schools are rather more in the driving seat with regard to leading improvement within and beyond their own gates. As new partnerships, networks, federations, clusters, trusts and chains are formed, and the local authority’s role reduces, senior leaders may find themselves making decisions on a far wider range of issues than previously. In addition, they may be playing a leading role in supporting and challenging other schools to improve their performance.

These changes have implications for the ways in which schools are run and in particular for middle managers who are considered integral in enabling and supporting school-to-school collaboration. The developments also throw up the opportunity for many interesting and important questions to be researched.


What could I research?

Here are some ideas for topics you could investigate on leadership and management:

How do school partnerships affect leadership within the linked schools? How effective is my partnership?


Is my school's governing body prepared to take on their newly developing
roles and responsibilities?


How is my school/network developing its middle and senior leaders?


Have learners' outcomes improved since the changes?


Research ideas


Is the school community happy with the way the school is developing?


Have the changes to my school had any unexpected impact?


How, and to what extent, is my school learning from others?


How has the relationship between the governing body and the headteacher/SLS changed over the past three years? How can it be improved?


How do I gather feedback from staff on the leadership and management of the school?


How are the roles and responsibilities of middle leaders in my school changing? How effective have these changes been?


What research design should I use?

Here are some things you will need to consider when designing your research project.


As with any research, you will need to consider who to include in your research. For leadership and management projects you could include: Chain or Trust senior leaders; governors/board members; headteachers/principals;  senior managers; middle managers; teaching and non-teaching staff; parents/carers and/or learners. You may want to include partnership schools too. Or you could assess your work with others (e.g. the local authority, national leaders of education (NLE), local leaders of education (LLE), and/or specialist leaders of education (SLE).


You could adopt a range of methods to explore leadership and management. These may include a literature review to find out about good practice elsewhere; documenting and observing change; undertaking action research; interviewing stakeholders to get their perceptions of change, collecting and sharing examples of good practice; suggesting improvements for the future; carrying out case studies across school or doing a short survey of staff satisfaction levels; for example.

Measuring change

This could be done through an action research project or by surveying or interviewing stakeholders about how they feel about the changes. If your school introduced a new structure some time ago, you may want to look at attainment data to see if learner outcomes under the new system have improved compared with the old structure. Or have improvements been confined to specific areas?

Relevant research and guidance

NFER has carried out a great deal of research into school leadership and management. Here are links to some of our publications.

What works in enabling school improvement? The role of the middle tier

Governance models in schools

Evaluation of the Gaining Ground strategy

Review of the School leadership landscape

Evaluation of the City Challenge Leadership Strategies

You may also find our school surveys helpful. NFER also offers a facilitator-led session in your school on future scenario planning, helping leaders visualise how technology will impact your classroom. 

In addition, you may also find some of these organisations’ publications useful:


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