A series of case studies underpins a report into leadership in London schools, ‘London Leaders: Beyond the Classroom’.

In the second in our series looking at the leadership of inner London schools, Dr Katherine Vincent continues her summary of her findings.

Part 2: Exemplifying effective practice

At the heart of the London Leaders report is a series of case studies, providing descriptive examples of effective practice from successful London schools. The aim of the case studies is to share existing good practice in a way that highlights how school leaders are responding to the challenges of the post-pandemic context, thus contributing to better understanding of the work that school leaders do, how they go about doing it and the key components that enable them to be successful.

Together, the case studies enable us to draw out common themes about effective leadership practice in London schools, which we hope will also be relevant in other contexts.

Our approach to the case studies is underpinned by four key principles:

  • Description not evaluation
  • Leaders as experts
  • Evidence of impact
  • Applicability to other contexts

A key aim was to create an opportunity for school leaders to describe, narrate and reflect on their leadership practice. This is not something they often have the chance to do, whereas there are many systems and mechanisms in place to judge and evaluate the work of schools and school leaders.

The role of Reconnect London is not to make judgments about schools but to facilitate collaboration and to help move knowledge and expertise around the school system. The case studies therefore do not set out to make judgments about the quality of schools and their provision. Instead, they aim to provide a deeper and more detailed understanding of the work that is done by schools that have already been judged as successful according to a range of other measures.

The choice to take this approach was predicated on a belief that school leaders’ narratives are an important source of evidence about the nature and impact of the work that they do. It was also underpinned by the knowledge that there are not many opportunities for schools and headteachers to share their experiences and expertise with others in a way that is conducive to mutual learning and collaboration. The case studies aim to improve this, by focusing on schools that have already been judged as being, according to a range of measures. Providing detailed descriptions of these schools’ work creates an opportunity for other school leaders to understand how the case study schools have achieved their success and may also support them to achieve success in their contexts.

Following the pandemic, there has been increasing awareness of the demands placed on school leaders and the way in which this can affect their emotional, mental and physical well-being. The process of gathering the case studies was therefore designed to place a minimum additional burden on the schools involved. After undertaking background research into each school and its context, the headteachers were asked to identify areas of their schools’ work which are important in terms of contributing to positive outcomes for pupils. In most cases, this was followed by visits to the case study schools. The purpose of the visits was not to evaluate the veracity or reliability of the school leaders’ accounts, but to explore key points, probe further, capture ideas and reflections, draw out key ideas and identify learning points that might be useful to others.

Although they are not evaluative, the case studies do include references to evidence about the ways in which the strategies and approaches described impact on pupils. This includes examination results and pupil destinations as well as Ofsted judgements and other forms of quantitative and qualitative data. This helps to give credibility to the accounts and demonstrates how the work might make a difference in others’ contexts. The case studies are not generalizable, but the key themes, approaches and strategies may be relevant to other settings. Most importantly, the model of context-responsive practice which the report sets out is one which is relevant to all schools.

The approach taken in the London Leaders report reflects Reconnect London’s belief in the importance of sharing information and expertise around the school system. In these challenging times, we must create opportunities for school leaders to learn more about the strategies that are effective in particular local contexts, taking account of the unique circumstances which shape each school community. The case studies in this report provide detailed descriptions about the work of school leaders and how they respond to their particular contexts.

Within the school system, the sharing of this type of insight between experienced professionals improves our collective knowledge, understanding and expertise. As a result, we increase the likelihood that we will be able to find effective solutions to the challenges we all face.

For more information about Reconnect London, please email info@reconnectlondon.org.

We are extremely grateful to Katherine for finding the time to summarise these schools’ work. They illustrate a number of aspects of creating effective collaborative learning communities

Wicked problems are frequently solved in partnership with other services within the school’s eco-system

Effective strategies for improvement take into account – time, place and disposition. 

Time and a variety of opportunities need to be made in the action for the practitioners to make their implicit knowledge explicit and thus share it with their peers.

The essential role facilitators play in supporting collaborative learning communities.

How schools, regardless of their governance arrangements, can collaborate to share knowledge and drive school improvement in a challenging urban environment.

Take care and stay safe.


Professor Sir George Berwick, CBE