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A systematic review of the impact of school headteachers and principals on student outcomes

What do we want to know?

Since 1990, education reforms in many countries have resulted in substantial changes in the roles of headteachers and principals. School leadership and management is regarded by policy-makers and practitioners alike as a key factor in ensuring a school's success. Thus, there is a widespread, strongly held belief that school leadership makes a difference and that headteachers should be supported and trained to raise educational standards.  However, this strong belief finds rather limited support in the research and scholarly literature, where the nature, focus and effect of leaders' actions are either contested or unclear. This review sets out to identify the research evidence on which these beliefs rest.

Who wants to know?

Policy-makers, school leadership, practitioners

What did we find?  

There is some evidence that school leaders can have some effect on student outcomes, albeit indirectly. It is mediated through key intermediate factors, namely the work of teachers, the organisation of the school, and the relationships with parents and the wider community.

What are the implications?

One tentative conclusion is to suggest that leadership that is distributed among the wider school staff might be more likely to have an effect on the positive achievement of student outcomes than that which is largely, or exclusively, 'top-down'.

How did we get these results?

Eight studies were reviewed, set in six different countries.

This summary was prepared by the EPPI Centre

This report should be cited as: Bell L, Bolam R, Cubillo L (2003) A systematic review of the impact of school leadership and management on student outcomes. In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

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