Over and over we hear teachers saying we don’t feel trusted. In many ways, teachers feel like they have no control over what and how they teach. What’s more, they feel powerless in a system with increasing demands without providing adequate resources, reward, or compensation. While some of the oversight will always be externalised, moving more toward self-improving systems would put teachers and school leaders in control of their own destinies when it comes to high-performance and accountability.


In fact, personal accountability is one of the key markers of a high-performance culture, as is trust and autonomy. And while there are pros and cons to the self improving school system, such a system could be a way to develop a culture of continuous improvement, collaboration and high performance.


There are a few basic conditions that need to be met in order to establish a self-improving school system:

  • A cluster of schools working together
  • Schools committed to coming up with their own solutions
  • Core values alignment between school staff and partners
  • Leaders committed to working toward a common purpose


In other words a self improving system is about creating a culture wherein trust, collaboration, autonomy and accountability are paramount. It’s less about punitive external accountability, and more about creating an environment where the expectations are high, but the foundation sets everyone up for success.


According to Portsmouth University professor of education Chris Brown, teachers in a self-improving system also need engaged in “evidence-informed practice.” This involves evaluating and applying academic research to improve teaching methods. In fact, Brown asserts, an evidence-informed practice — or EIP — is the “hallmark of high performing schools” and a “prerequisite for effective teaching and learning.”


From this perspective, a self improving schools system operates using a scientific process of asking questions, conducting research, developing a hypothesis, and testing that hypothesis. Not only do teachers and staff need access to resources — in this case research — they must also understand the importance of applying it to improving their teaching. What’s more, EIP only works in an environment where teachers feel safe to experiment with various teaching methods — to determine which ones work, and which ones don’t.


This all seems fairly radical in the context of the current top-down command-and-control school system, where much of the accountability is external. And while there have been some positive results so far, there are some potential pitfalls for those creating self improving systems to consider. According to a report from the Guardian, one of the biggest concerns is in fact, that the system could become a top-down approach with some schools dominating others. Another concern is how the system will deliver for all students — including those with disabilities or who are economically disadvantaged.


The reality is that even the self-improving school system is not a silver bullet. Success is dependent on establishing a culture of continuous improvement, collaboration, and autonomy with a foundation of core values as a guiding light. In the end, self-improving systems are about creating a high-performance environment that puts ownership and personal accountability in the hands of teachers and school leaders.



Hi, I’m Dr Ioan Rees; thank you for reading this article.

I work with smart, motivated leaders to help transform their organisations by building a high-performance culture that places trust, engagement and innovation at the centre.

Download my latest free ebook 5 Strategies for Creating a High-Performance Culture.