I shall begin this book with a ‘trigger warning’. If you are reading this book with the expectation that it will provide a comprehensive summary of the research evidence on either school leadership or effective teaching and learning, then you will be disappointed. My aims are somewhat different. I want to:

1. Provide guidance to school leaders – at whatever level – as to how they can go about evidence-based decision-making.

2. Encourage school leaders to use evidence-based practice beyond the classroom, and show how it can be applied to all aspects of the work in a school.

3. Provide school leaders with access to a range of techniques and approaches which can help them engage more critically with multiple sources of evidence.

4. Provoke discussion as to what it looks like to lead an evidence-based school.

As such, this book is informed by the following rationale, which has been developed from the work of Brown and Zhang (2017) and Neeleman (2017):

  • Around the world, school leaders have both increasing levels of autonomy and range of responsibilities in decision-making alongside growing pressure to bring about increases in both the efficiency and effectiveness of schools. Furthermore, there is an increasing evidence base as to ‘what works’, not just in education but also in leadership and management.

  • However, there is a research–practice/knowing–doing gap resulting in leadership and management decisions in schools not being informed by the best available evidence – be it research, stakeholder views, organisational data and practitioner expertise.

  • Accordingly, school leaders should adopt a structured approach to evidence-based school leadership and management – which incorporates all domains of the role of the leaders – be it educational, the school as organisation, and staff.

  • By using research and other sources of evidence this should provide school leaders with increased levels of knowledge and understanding of the educational, organisational and staffing domains of the school.

  • This learning will impact upon school leaders’ professional judgement, and the awareness of the availability of teaching and leadership strategies in the classroom and other settings.

  • This should lead to improved decision-making resulting in an increased likelihood of improved pupils’ outcomes (cognitive and emotive), staff well-being and organisational sustainability.

Who is the intended audience of this book?

This booked is aimed at anyone who has an interest in either school leadership or evidence-based practice. Aspiring leaders may find the book helpful, as it provides an introduction to some of the key issues associated with evidence-based practice. Heads of department may also find the book useful as it describes a number of simple techniques which are relevant to day-to-day leadership and management. School research leads and champions will find the book useful as it provides a primer into how to help colleagues critically appraise research evidence. School business managers will gain insights into how evidence-based practice in schools is not limited to matters relating to teaching and learning, and extends to all aspects of the schools, including support services. Senior leaders will find that the book contains insights into how to close the gap between the ‘rhetoric’ and the ‘reality’ of evidence-based practice. Governors and trustees will also find value in the book as it shows how decision-making can often fall foul of cognitive biases, and suggests techniques that may minimise the impact of such biases. Finally, hopefully anyone who is interested in making evidence-based decisions will find something of value somewhere between the covers of the book.

How did this book come about?

This book has its origins in my blog Evidence Based School Leadership (https://evidencebasededucationalleadership.blogspot.com) which I began to write in the spring of 2014. Initially, the product of a ‘professional disappointment’ (code for not getting a senior position and a subsequent change in lifestyle) the blog was intended to provide a voice for my interest in educational leadership and management research, an interest which goes back to the formative stages of my career and masters and doctoral level study at the University of Bristol. At first, the blog was also heavily influenced by nearly 30 years of experience of working in education, where I had often seen the negative consequences of the latest teaching/managerial fad or an unwillingness to engage with the ‘data’ to understand performance at a system level. Unfortunately, teacher and headteacher professionalism had acted as an insufficient bulwark to these negative consequences. Indeed, my experience was that prevailing ‘professional’ cultures may well have contributed to the non-use of evidence, with professional ‘interests’ being prioritised over the needs of pupils, parents and other stakeholders.

Nevertheless, two events soon led to the blog taking a slightly different direction. First, by chance I read an article by Furnham (2014) which introduced me to work of Rob Briner, Eric Barends and Denisse Rousseau and the Center for Evidence-Based Management. This resulted in a summer of reading about the development of evidence-based practice (Barends et al., 2014) and evidence-based medicine in particular, for example, Sackett et al. (1996). Second, at the end of the year I attended a researchED one-day event, designed to support school research champions. It became immediately apparent that although there was interest and enthusiasm for the use of research in schools, there was little or no awareness about the broader evidence-based practice movement. As a result, from January 2015 the blog became focused on techniques and approaches drawn from evidence-based practice, in general, and evidence-based medicine in particular, could be used to support both school leaders and school research leads and champions.

Since the beginning of 2015, I have written over 140 posts which have had some focus on the use of research and evidence within schools. Indeed, it is the writing of these posts that has strongly influenced the contents of this book. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that over the period of time spent writing this book my thinking aboutevidence-based school leadership has changed, shifting from a focus on ‘what works,’ to a far greater awareness of how to develop the knowledge, skills and judgement to make contextual decisions about what is likely to work in a particular school, given the nature of the pupils, staff, stakeholders and available resources