The Improving Schools Project is designed to spread good practice among local schools. In a report on the first phase of the project which finished in September last year, its authors Una Connolly and Chris James, based at the University of Glamorgan in Pontypridd, single out the quality of a headteacher's leadership as one, if not the main factor in determining a school's improvement. He or she has to win over staff to a vision of improvement and change the culture of the place.
One head said: "Raising standards is not something you can just pull down from a suitcase and dust down every now and then. Raising standards has to be a theme which permeates all that we do. It is something that is continuously reinforced."
Sometimes they encountered hostility. One head moved to a school where the staff felt their needs were paramount: "These people have lived in an atmosphere which was teacher-centred rather than child-centred. It is difficult to change people like that. Five per cent of people can be changed overnight; within six months, maybe 55 per cent will change to a new way of working."
The new head has to make the staff feel involved. "It was important to praise what the school had done," said another new head taking over a failing school. "It was important not to go in and denigrate the school or the catchment area. We (senior management) made sure that staff were fully involved in everything we did."
Heads knew they had to let staff express themselves in a structured framework: "It is important not to punish mistakes," said another head, "important not to set up a culture where people are reluctant to try things. Staff need to be encouraged to be innovative, to take a risk."
When all else fails, hard evidence of what could be achieved was presented to them. One teacher described how the new head pinned the school performance table to the staffroom wall: "These showed that a neighbouring school had a greater percentage improvement. This jolted many staff into change."