School Leadership & Management: Theory of Change

This week, staff from the InformEd team are in Nepal beginning a 2-year developmental evaluation. In partnership with Save the Children and the government of Nepal, we will be working toward the creation of a program for improving school leadership and management. Over the coming months, we will be sharing what we learn through a series of posts. Before diving into our evaluation plan, though, let’s review why we are focusing on school leadership and management, why the teams decided to use developmental evaluation for the process, and our initial theory of change.


During a recent trip to Cambodia as part of an evaluation for Save the Children Norway’s I’m Learning program in three countries (Cambodia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe), our team found that stronger leadership and management in schools was having a noticeable effect on children’s learning. De-centralization of school governance has placed more responsibility on school heads, yet expectations from the community remain the same with the federal government providing fewer direct services. Through the creation of a traditional school board, teacher leadership group, student council, and parent classroom committee – combined to form one School Development Committee – these school leaders are engaging various community members who believe they all have a role to play in providing a quality learning environment.

Whether it is a police officer ensuring children’s safety at school or the local health department running clinics at schools to address issues of malnutrition, these community members are not relying on assistance from the federal government to support their local schools. Contribution of this engagement is clear in the improvement of the physical environment (see Figures 1 and 2 below of a learning center before and after assistance from the School Development Committee), as well as through strong gains in learning outcomes.


In 2018, the World Development Report highlighted the changing landscape around schooling. In the report, World Bank authors discuss how poor school management and governance often result in undermining school quality. The report states, “The effective management of schools relies on capacity and autonomy for decision making at the school level, which are often lacking. Higher management quality and school leadership are associated with better education outcomes.” Research shows that school leadership isn’t only a function to be exhibited by the school principal. Where the walls around schools come down, and responsibilities are distributed among parents and community stakeholders, sustained improvements to learning outcomes are achieved.

Figure 3. Save the Children Quality Learning Framework

Figure 3. Save the Children Quality Learning Framework


Save the Children International’s theory for what enables a quality basic education is called the Quality Learning Framework (QLF) (see Figure 3). Through emotional and psychosocial protection, physical protection, teaching and learning, engagement with parents and community, and effective school leadership and management, Save the Children believes children receive the foundational support they need for success in school and daily life.

Through its QLF, Save the Children has developed many project models that address four of its five foundations, but little programming guidance exists within the organization for the foundation of school leadership and management. As a result of the positive relationship identified during the I’m Learning evaluation between quality school environments and student learning, InformEd recommended the development and testing of a global program model focused on school management and leadership that strengthens the impact of existing work to improve the quality of education.

Together, Save the Children and InformEd decided the best approach to developing this program was through a developmental evaluation, a method that supports the innovation process in organizations and encourages the process of continual creation and adaptation. Over the next two years, InformEd and Save the Children, along with community stakeholders, will consider current school leadership and management training programs throughout the world, each with their own emphasis, evidence base, and methods of implementation, in order to create a program that is effective for Nepal. As a result of the rigorous evaluation process developmental evaluation provides, the goal is that these results will form the basis for the creation of a global program.

Figure 4. School Leadership & Management (SLaM) Theory of Change

Figure 4. School Leadership & Management (SLaM) Theory of Change

As a starting point, InformEd has developed a draft Theory of Change (see Figure 4) for the School Leadership and Management (SLaM) model. At the base level, we believe head teachers must have improved capacity in leading learning, distributed leadership, and effective management of human, financial, and physical resources. By setting high expectations of the learning environment, clarifying the roles of students, parents, and community members, and improving transparency and trust to ensure a protective and safe learning environment, we believe an inclusive school environment will be created. Through participation, accountability, and transparency, the school community is empowered to identify, address, and sustain the holistic education needs of its learners.

Our team has presented this Theory of Change to a group of Nepali stakeholders and will soon begin the process of testing its accuracy and effectiveness in that context. As we prepare the first steps of the developmental evaluation, we are thinking about how this model can meet community demands in many different contexts, a question we will explore throughout the evaluation.

We look forward to engaging with Save the Children Norway over the next two years and sharing what we learn throughout the process. If there is a specific element of our developmental evaluation process you’d like to know more about, leave us a comment below!  


Are you involved in a project focused on improving school leadership and management? Given your experience, are there elements necessary for success that are missing from our Theory of Change?