School Leaders

December 2016

Evidence over decades indicates that the overall quality of a school almost never exceeds the quality of its leadership and management. Acknowledging the importance of developing effective school leaders, this issue of EdKnowledge explores how systems across the world and within India view professional development of school leaders and highlights some best practices.

What does good School Leadership look like

The first step in the process of building strong school leaders is to clearly identify and articulate what effective leadership looks like. This is typically defined through competency frameworks or standards, which form the basis for selection as well as professional development of school leaders. Globally, high-performing education systems have defined competency standards for their school leaders, covering various aspects of instructional leadership, organisation management and relationship building. Some of these includes:

In attempting to understand the foundation on which these standards are based, we observed that standards are developed largely based on three sources of information, and are constantly updated to reflect the dynamic needs of the role of a school leader:

  1. Empirical evidence on competencies for effective school leadership
  2. Practical experiences of school leaders and experts
  3. Value systems and ethical code of conduct for school leaders

The need for ongoing professional development

Ongoing professional development is critical to support and empower school leaders. An empirical study on successful school leadership by Leithwood et. al, states that almost all successful leaders draw on the basic repertoire of practices, which can be adopted by anyone with the right support and motivation. An article by NCEE finds that leading education systems like Shanghai, Singapore, Finland and Ontario make school leader development a core part of their strategy for improving education outcomes. While approaches differ, each of these systems invests in rigorous selection, strong preparation, ongoing professional development and opportunities for continuous improvement of their school leaders.

Key elements of successful programmes

There is a lack of conclusive evidence on strategies for effective professional development for school leaders. However, a review by Education Development Trust identifies various trends in high-quality school leadership development programmes across countries –

  1. There is a shift towards structured programmes rather than one-off trainings, to ensure continuity and progression in professional development.
  2. Increasingly programmes are designed to combine theoretical knowledge with practice. The National College of Teaching and Learning in UK, has in fact created detailed guidelines for the development of training content including case studies, accounts of practice as well as real-life scenarios.
  3. Effective programmes take into account school leaders’ desire to learn from each other through learning communities, apprenticeships and mentoring. An overview of school leadership development in Singapore highlights how Singapore has designed a successful principal development programme, with coaching and cluster-based learning networks at the centre.
  4. There is also a need to link development activities to each school leaders’ individual context. Use of technology is an effective and scalable way to provide individualised support to leaders scattered across geographies. NYC Leadership Academy, recently launched a blended residency programme to support school leaders while ‘they are in the thick of their school responsibilities’ and this blog elaborates on their learnings from the programme.

School Leaders professional development in India

In India, there is an increasing focus on supporting school leaders through in-service training. National Centre for School Leadership (NCSL), has laid down guidelines for school leadership training in India and has created a package of resources for a training programme for school leaders as a handbook. NCSL has also partnered with SCERTs (State Council of Educational Research and Training) to train State Resource Groups (SRGs) to roll-out the programme for all school principals across the state.

Civil society organisations are also playing an active role in improving the capacity of school leaders, across government and affordable private schools. India School Leadership Institute (ISLI) supports nearly 400 school leaders through their two-year fellowship programme, which covers monthly workshops, on-site support and coaching for school improvement. A case study of their programme highlights how this model is successfully supporting school leaders.

Evaluation of Programmes

Given the wide variety of school leadership development programmes, one of the key questions is that how can we assesses the quality and effectiveness of these programmes. To develop a shared understanding of programme quality and to guide training providers in developing, assessing and improving their programmes, the Quality Measures Tool lays down indicators and rubrics, which can be used to evaluate a programme at different stages of its development.

Additional Resources

School Leadership Resources, TESS India – TESS India provides freely available, Open Educational Resources (OER) for school leaders aiming to improve teaching and learning
Structured development of school leadership in Delhi, CSF – In this proposal, Central Square Foundation (CSF) shares detailed action steps for strengthening school leadership in Delhi
OECD country reports on school leadership – OECD’s study on improving school leadership provides reports of each of the 22 participating countries, describing national approaches to school leadership development.

At CSF, we are always looking to learn more. Please write to to share your thoughts on this issue of EdKnowledge, provide us more reading material and food for thought, or just to say hi!