A model for primary school leadership

Freedom to lead: a study of outstanding primary school leadership in England comes from the National College for Teaching & Leadership. It sets out a model which begins by identifying ten basic tenets of outstanding primary school leadership:

  1. All children can succeed.
  2. Primary schools determine life chances.
  3. Background should not limit outcomes.
  4. Successful primary schools do the right things consistently well.
  5. Almost all primary teachers can be good or better.
  6. Teaching which focuses on clear learning objectives, effective instruction for all,
    the steps needed to make progress, feedback and assessment, is essential to
    children’s good progress.
  7. School leadership is key to raising standards.
  8.  The most effective school leaders readily model good teaching.
  9. The most effective support for teachers comes from other expert practitioners.
  10. The quality of the curriculum makes a significant contribution to the children’s
    interest, engagement and learning and thus to the outcomes they achieve.

The study visualises outstanding leadership using three dimensions.

  1. What sort of people are outstanding primary leaders?
    They are driven by a commitment to do the best for every child in the school, hence their schools are ‘child-centred’; children come first. These headteachers also have a strong sense of social justice, seeking to remove the barriers to achievement such as disadvantage and low parental aspiration by compensating for what the children lack and by working closely with families and the community. Necessary qualities include vision, determination, resilience, tenacity and drive, laced with the courage of their convictions and carried forward with an irresistible momentum. Above all, they maintain a single-minded focus on teaching and learning, so as to maximise the achievement of all.
  2. What do outstanding leaders do?
    As the culture of the school changes and systems and approaches become
    implemented and embedded, leaders move the school on, constantly refining, innovating, empowering and developing. School improvement strategies are knowledgeable, rooted in experience and current knowledge of best practice as well as the most powerful research. All actions are focused on what they will mean for children and their learning.
  3. How do they do it?
    They lead by example and respect each individual but do not shirk difficult
    conversations or hard decisions.
    Trust and empowerment are strong characteristics.
    They have a propensity for seizing new opportunities.


Matthews, Peter, et al. “Freedom to lead: a study of outstanding primary school leadership in England.” London: Department for Education (2014).