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Leading the improvement of underperforming schools: reviewing the contemporary evidence

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-08-15, 15:18 authored by Alma Harris, Nashwa Ismail, Michelle Jones


The purpose of this article is to outline how far the empirical evidence supports the centrality of leadership in the process of improving underperforming schools.


This article draws on evidence from a contemporary, selected, review of the literature.


The findings show that leadership is the critical factor in the improvement of underperforming schools. Seven new themes, derived from the selected evidence, are presented that illuminate how leaders secure improvement in the most challenging of school contexts.

Research limitations/implications

This review is not a systematic review of the evidence and does not claim to be. It provides a commentary based on selected contemporary evidence and therefore is not comprehensive account of all the relevant evidence pertaining to leading the improvement of underperforming schools. The evidence is derived from sources written in English; therefore, it is fully acknowledged that other sources, in other languages might exist but are not included or reflected.

Practical implications

The practical implications are clearly laid out in the form of seven key themes about leading the improvement of underperforming schools that are of direct practical use.


With so many schools in high poverty areas finding themselves in difficulty, this contemporary review provides new insights about the leadership approaches and practices that continue to make a considerable difference to underperforming schools.





  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)


Harris, A., Ismail, N. and Jones, M. (2023)'Leading the improvement of underperforming schools: reviewing the contemporary evidence', International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 37 No. 5, pp. 949-967.

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Cardiff Met Affiliation

  • Cardiff School of Education and Social Policy

Cardiff Met Authors

Alma Harris

Copyright Holder

  • © The Publisher


  • en

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