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Landmark study examines headteachers' impact on school performance

A recent report highlights the impact and influence that headteachers can have on their school’s performance.

30 November 2023

A recent report highlights the impact and influence that headteachers can have on their school’s performance.

The first of its kind

The study, which is the first of its kind, was led by the Education Policy Institute, in partnership with academics at Newcastle University Business School, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation. It focuses specifically on how headteachers can impact pupil progress, staff turnover and absences, and explored if a headteacher’s ethnicity or gender impact these factors.

Nils Braakmann, Professor of Economics at Newcastle University Business School, said: “Headteachers in the UK have enormous autonomy to manage their schools, but so far, we know very little about how much of a difference it makes to have a “good” headteacher.”

Landmark discoveries

The study used national data on students and headteachers in England between 2004 and 2019, with access to data on 22,300 students and 5,400 secondary headteachers. 

The study resulted in a robust report which highlighted several key findings and correlations between effective headteachers and performance. Findings included:

  • replacing an ineffective headteacher with an effective headteacher increases pupils GCSE grades by two.
  • effective headteachers reduce staff turnover and staff absenteeism.
The header of a GCSE certificate which reads "GCSE Examination - General Certificate of Secondary Education"

Impacting government and Ofsted

The report findings are driving some important conversations around education in the UK, particularly in the North East. The report recommends that:

  • government should prioritise developing quality headteachers, particularly outside of London.
  • governors and Ofsted need to understand and recognise the cost of losing good leaders in education and why supporting new headteachers is fundamental.
  • trusts and councils need to encourage their best leaders to work in challenging schools.

Professor Braakmann explains: “Our results show that headteachers really make an enormous impact on their schools. Choosing a good headteacher is probably one of the most important decisions a school governing body can make.”