Wednesday, 30 April 2014


"Almost every country has undertaken some school system reform during the past two decades, but very few have succeeded in improving their systems from poor to fair to good to great to excellent." 
Mona Mourshed, Chinezi Chijioke and Michael Barber

Interestingly, the report identifies the elements that are required for school systems as they move from poor to fair to good to great to excellence. Their findings were as follows:
  • ANYONE CAN DO IT! "A system can make significant gains from wherever it starts – and these gains can be achieved in six years or less.
  • YOU HAVE TO FOCUS ON WHAT HAPPENS IN CLASSROOMS! There is too little focus on ‘process’ in the debate today. Improving system performance ultimately comes down to improving the learning experience of students in their classrooms.
  • IT ISN'T ROCKET SCIENCE! Each particular stage of the school system improvement journey is associated with a unique set of interventions. The research suggests all improving systems implement similar sets of interventions to move from one particular performance level to the next, irrespective of culture, geography, politics, or history.
  • CONTEXT MATTERS! A system’s context might not determine what needs to be done, but it does determine how it is done. Though each performance stage is associated with a common set of interventions, there is substantial variation in how a system implements these interventions with regard to their sequence, timing, and roll-out – there is little or no evidence of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to reform implementation.
  • THE SIX KEYS TO SUCCESS! Six interventions occur equally at every performance stage for all systems. The research suggests that six interventions are common to all performance stages across the entire improvement journey: building the instructional skills of teachers and management skills of principals, assessing students, improving data systems, facilitating improvement through the introduction of policy documents and education laws, revising standards and curriculum, and ensuring an appropriate reward and remuneration structure for teachers and principals.
  • AUTONOMY MATTERS! Systems further along the journey sustain improvement by balancing school autonomy with consistent teaching practice. While the study shows that systems in poor and fair performance achieve improvement through a center that increases and scripts instructional practice for schools and teachers, such an approach does not work for systems in ‘good’ performance onwards.
  • LEADERSHIP MATTERS! Leaders take advantage of changed circumstances to ignite reforms. Across all the systems studied, one or more of three circumstances produced the conditions that triggered reform: a socio-economic crisis; a high profile, critical report of system performance; or a change in leadership.
  • LEADERS WHO STAY MATTER! Leadership continuity is essential. Leadership is essential not only in sparking reform but in sustaining it. Two things stand out about the leaders of improving systems. Firstly, their longevity: the median tenure of the new strategic leaders is six years and that of the new political leaders is seven years."
This is a hugely important report which everyone interested in schools and learning should carefully read.  If you want to read the report you can visit the McKinsey website at

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