Transforming a school is a long, hard, and often lonely task. Some people want change, others don’t, and some simply aren’t prepared to wait for results to show. As a school leader sets off on this journey, how do they know what to do, when to do it, who to listen to, and how to manage critics along the way?
Our study of the actions and impact of 411 leaders of UK academies found that only 62 of them managed their turnaround successfully and sustainably transformed their school. While other leaders managed to create a school that looked good while they were there, but then went backwards, these 62 leaders built a school that continued to improve long after they’d left. We call them Architects, because they systematically redesign the school and transform the community it serves.
We studied them over eight years, using 64 investment and 24 performance variables to identify what they did, when they did it, and the impact they had. We visited the schools to see first-hand their actions and results. And we interviewed the leaders and their teams to understand the challenges they faced, when they occurred, and how they overcame them.
We found the Architects sustainably transformed a school by challenging how it operated, engaging its community, and improving its teaching. They took nine key steps over three years, in a particular order. Each step represented a different building block in the school performance pyramid. But it was a bumpy ride, with 90% almost fired at the end of their second year. Here’s what they did, and how they did it.