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The influence of headteachers on their schools

Researchers: James Zuccollo | Nils Braakmann ...

Project overview


This project will quantify the influence of headteachers on schools across several dimensions: the school’s overall performance, the characteristics of the student body, and the characteristics of the teaching workforce.

UK school policies give headteachers great autonomy over the recruitment and reward of staff, behaviour policies, curriculum offering and the length of the school term. However, headteachers are in turn held highly accountable for outcomes, particularly pupils’ academic performance. The Department for Education claims school leadership is one of the greatest influences on pupil outcomes, yet there is little quantitative evidence in the UK of the causal impact of headteachers on their schools and the mechanisms through which they exert influence. Quantitative evidence would have important implications for both policymakers and practitioners concerned with school autonomy, accountability, and the professional development of headteachers.

The first stage of research will identify the causal effect of headteachers on school performance by developing an econometric model that exploits headteachers’ moves between schools to separate the effect of headteachers from the persistent effect of school circumstances. The researchers will use the School Workforce Census to observe the outcomes for a school across multiple headteachers and to observe the outcomes for a headteacher across multiple schools. Data visualisations and regressions will be used to identify combinations of characteristics that are associated with better performance. The second stage of the project will use similar mechanisms to investigate the role of headteacher characteristics on the composition of a school’s workforce and student body.

This project will provide important evidence to inform and improve English school policy. The researchers will publish reports targeted at an educational policy audience, summarising the findings and their implications for the accountability framework and autonomy of schools, while further reports will be published for an academic and a general audience.

Team


  • James Zuccollo
    Education Policy Institute
  • Nils Braakmann
    University of Newcastle
  • Luke Sibieta
    Education Policy Institute

  • Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.

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