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Impact of School Leadership and District Leadership on Student Outcomes 
A Scoping Review


Research conducted since 1990 on the question of ‘Does school and district leadership affect student outcomes?’ and the sub-question of ‘What is the importance of leadership within the school and district ecosystem?’ review affirms the importance of effective school and district leadership in running successful high-performing schools. In the past forty-odd years of extensive school improvement and leadership research, school improvement programs across the globe have benefitted extensively from findings from both theory and practice. This research positively indicates that school leaders and district leaders make a positive difference in student outcomes. 

Leadership in education is defined as the shared work and commitments that shape the direction of a school or district and their learning improvement agendas, and that engage effort and energy in the pursuit of those agendas. (Knapp, Michael S et al., 2010) Student success and achievement in schools are not just dependent on teaching techniques, infrastructure, teaching and learning resources, and comprehensive, relevant curriculum. Over the years, it has become increasingly clear that leadership in education is imperative for establishing and running healthy schools and ensuring students have a safe, positive, and healthy schooling experience. This environment of leadership and excellence, once established, thereby creates an environment conducive to academic, emotional, and interpersonal student success. 


To understand, identify and describe the impact of effective educational leadership on student outcomes and including identifying research gaps, Colab and Edumentum conducted a scoping literature review on the impact of school and district leadership on student outcomes. For the purpose of this report, the scope of educational leadership focuses on school and district leadership, specifically. This report aims to provide an understanding of the links between school and district leadership and student learning and outcomes. To establish healthy schools and school systems, where children thrive, we need to know what leaders can do and how they can do this.


The purpose of this investigation was to provide a comprehensive overview of the best practices–substantiated and validated by evidence-based research across the world –that school and district leaders can employ to improve student learning outcomes. The research questions being addressed were thus:


Main question

What is the impact of school leadership and district leadership on student outcomes?


Sub questions

a. What is the importance of leadership within the school and district ecosystem?

b. What practices can school leaders and district leaders employ to positively increase student


c. How can the district support the school leader in building leadership and student outcomes?


A scoping literature review was conducted that drew together a comprehensive range of evidence of successful educational leadership (school and district) and its impact on overall student achievement. The scoping review protocol involved an initial statement of the search strategy, multiple rounds of processing, and a thematic analysis of results.

Practices related to

  • establishing goals and a vision,

  • creating a hospitable climate,

  • planning and coordinating instruction and curriculum,

  • promoting teacher professional development,

  • managing people and processes,

  • managing community engagement were tabled and analysed,

allowing for an analysis of which practices under these categories were most effective and had the most significant impact on student outcomes.


Thematic analysis on these categories was then followed by the lead author. This involved extracting the details of the research articles, journals, and papers into the respective themes, analysing the results, drawing conclusions and implications for practices that directly and indirectly lead to an increase in student outcomes, and identifying further areas needing research. A total of 19 articles, books, and papers were analysed for this report. 



Knapp, Michael S., et al. "Learning-focused leadership and leadership support: Meaning and practice in urban systems." Seattle, WA: Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy–University of Washington (2010).

Research by CoLab; Packaged by CoLab

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