Institute of Education


Learning with London

A study visit programme for school principals from New South Wales, Australia.

New South Wales school principals

18 February 2020

The UCL Centre for Educational Leadership at the IOE welcomes visitors from all over the world interested in exchanging knowledge about how school leaders ensure all children can achieve their potential in a rapidly changing world.

The Department of Education in New South Wales (NSW), Australia approached the UCL Centre for Educational Leadership, with the wish to send a group of high achieving school principals to the United Kingdom to learn about how school leaders in London and elsewhere in England had brought about rapid improvement in their schools. 


In a spirit of genuine collaboration, a programme leader within the UCL Centre for Educational Leadership worked closely with the Director of Leadership and High Performance in NSW to ensure an understanding of each other’s educational contexts as well as the needs and interests of the school principals who would be visiting. 

Some key aims emerged during the planning phase and it was agreed that NSW principals should have the opportunity to:

  • understand the policy and practice interventions and implementation in London that have driven effective changes over time
  • deconstruct the key levers around leadership and quality that have drive improvement in educational outcomes
  • understand improvements taking root in London and elsewhere including school-led and self-improving initiatives
  • consider emerging system relationships in London including collaborative networking, disruptive innovation and new models of learning
  • engage in facilitated, practical thinking and planning for advancing individual projects linking professional learning and leadership with improvement.


A two-week study programme was designed in partnership, delivered in November 2019, combining visits to schools with seminars led by experts in leadership from the UCL Centre for Educational Leadership and other leading educational thinkers and practitioners.

In terms of the programme itself, seminars and visits were organised around key themes: leadership of school improvement, London Challenge and the Mayor’s Schools for Success programme; system leadership through Teaching School Alliances and Multi-Academy Trusts; leading learning and learning communities, including evidence-informed practice; peer review; accountability systems and the role of inspection.

The UCL Centre for Educational Leadership's track record of working in partnership with local schools meant that the expertise of school leaders willing and able to share case studies of their own improvement journeys over time was drawn upon. These included the likes of the Lambeth Teaching School Alliance, Highlands Primary School in Redbridge, Mulberry School for Girls, Morpeth School, Globe Primary School and Saffron Walden County High School. Through the careful combination of visits and seminars, principals were able to see the application in practice of concepts and strategies described by expert speakers during the seminars.

School principals from New South Wales, Australia


School principals were charged with sharing their learning across local and regional networks on return to New South Wales. As a crucial element within the learning model, time was built in each day to allow for principals to reflect and develop a focus of enquiry to explore during their school visits and seminars.

On the final day of the study visit, the principals presented the findings of their enquiries on the following themes:

  • developing and distributing teacher and middle leadership
  • leadership of student learning (curriculum, teaching, assessment) and achievement for all
  • the leadership of professional learning and development
  • school-led system improvement: local collaboration and school-to-school support
  • leading change and improvement through the development of school culture.

In each case, groups reported on what they had learned, how this connected with their home context and what they intended to share with colleagues on their return to Australia. This final morning was a genuine opportunity for mutual learning and it was fascinating to hear principals’ reflections on England’s education system and the possible actions they might take. Overall, potential areas of activity resulting from the visit include how to:

  • encourage school collaboration focussed on a shared moral responsibility for pupil progress and well-being
  • develop the skills and competencies of middle leaders through targeted professional development
  • design individualised, enquiry-based, evidence-informed professional learning opportunities, with an increased focus on improving pedagogy
  • create opportunities for school-to-school peer review
  • develop the capacity for principals to act as mentors for aspiring school principals.

The UCL Centre for Educational Leadership team will remain in dialogue with colleagues in the Department of Education in New South Wales, tracking the actual impact of the study visit at school, network and system level in the coming months.

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