ISLI Case Study


India School Leadership Institute (ISLI) aims to develop school leaders to lead high-performing schools for underserved communities. ISLI believes that training and providing on-ground support to school leaders will improve educational practices within the school, therefore increasing teacher performance and student outcomes.

CSF Support to ISLI

In 2013, while there was a lot of conversation about teacher quality, the conversations about school leadership quality were limited. At CSF, we recognised that there was a lack of solutions to strengthen this critical layer. ISLI was established in 2013 to bridge this gap, and aligned closely with our criteria.

  • Early stage: ISLI was incubated by CSF and three other organizations – KIPP USA, Akanksha Foundation and Teach for India, and CSF has been supporting ISLI ever since its inception.
  • Focus on low-income education ecosystem: ISLI’s vision has always been to cater to schools for underserved communities. To this end, their work has focused entirely on affordable private schools (APS) or public schools.
  • Entrepreneur and Team: ISLI was led initially by Sameer Sampat and is now headed by Gayatri Nair Lobo. The entrepreneurs and leadership team collectively bring years of experience in the sector, deep technical understanding of the issue and strong organisation-building and strategic skills.
  • Evidence-backed: Global evidence indicates that the quality of a school rarely exceeds the quality of its leadership and management. A ‘New Leaders for New Schools’ study even found that 25% of a school’s impact on student achievement is attributable to the school leader.
  • Distinctiveness: Despite such strong evidence, ISLI’s initial research showed that School Leaders in India lacked requisite skills for instructional leadership and their role remained largely managerial. Having understood this gap in the system, ISLI designed a first-of-its-kind in-service training program for supporting school leaders in India.
  • Scalability: ISLI piloted a national model in its first year, but soon pivoted to a local city-based model that could provide more targeted support to school leaders across the country. The 2 year programme provides off-site workshops and on-site support through a City Programme Manager (CPM) to school leaders. Over the past year, ISLI has also adapted its programme for scale in the public system and has engaged actively in advocacy around key issues related to school leaders, such as merit-based selection and professional development.
  • Technology: ISLI has been leveraging technology to help CPMs track and update performance of their school leaders. Increasingly they are also looking at digital tools and content to strengthen the programme delivery and quality.
  • Sustainability: ISLI has dual model of meeting financial requirements through raising philanthropic capital as well as through monetisation from beneficiary schools. Over the last five years, ISLI has seen a considerable growth in overall budgets. This year, their budget increased by 24% over the last year.

ISLI’s success story

Starting with just seven school leaders in 2013, ISLI has reached nearly 1,000 school leaders through their city fellowship within five years. ISLI has also adapted its programmes to cater to the public system and will meet an additional 1000 school leaders through government partnerships. The number of teachers planning lessons for class has doubled and a large percentage of students have shown improvement in learning outcomes, in ISLI partner schools. Apart from the direct impact on schools, ISLI has been a thought leader for the ecosystem, evangelizing the critical role of school leaders through sharing its work, forging partnerships and advocacy efforts.