What Makes A Good School?

What makes a good school?  A question that I am often asked.  The world developed an obsession with school leadership during the era of the Effective School Movement in the 1980s because of the belief, supported by research, that the quality of leadership determined school quality and influenced student outcomes (Bush, 2007).   While leadership has enjoyed the accolades, it is important to emphasize that good management is also crucial for a schools’ improvement. 

While researchers and academics argue over the definitions of leadership, management, and even administration, I will give my own version of what makes a good school.  It is clear from a practitioner’s point of view that a school principal who provides leadership in school plays a crucial part in making a good school.  The idea of the principal much like the movie, Superman is somewhat true; especially possessing traits like intelligence, courage, resilience, persistence, strength, and energy (irrespective of gender), to face the daily needs to ‘put out fires’. These also require the help and support from the teachers and parents and all who make up the school community.  The school principal is the linking pin who sets the tone of the school, which leads others in the school to take the cue.  

A good school would have a principal creating and adding value to the organization by building capacity such as grooming leaders among teachers.  This is important because the quality of the school can never be better than the quality of the teachers (Villani, 2002).  At the same time, the principal should also involve the community in addressing challenges and celebrating the achievements of the school together.  The principal sets the direction by creating visions, which followers believe in and trust that the direction is for the good of the students and all connected to the school.  A principal does this by motivating and inspiring others through action-based leadership and leading by examples (Nayar, 2013).  The execution of the visions into concrete plans are extremely crucial to implement.  Implementation of plans needs good managers who will monitor and manage the people who are carrying out the work.  These managers, who are teachers themselves, will have the task of making sure such plans work out effectively and efficiently.

The question then raises “What can a principal do to provide such an environment where everyone works towards the fulfilment of the visions?”  Broadly speaking, the leader could choose between a democratic or relationship-oriented leadership style and an autocratic or task-oriented leadership style.  An autocratic or task-oriented leadership style would be appropriate if the school is in crisis while a democratic or relationship-oriented leadership style would be appropriate for a school on cruising mode.  From an autocratic leadership style, schools can gradually ease towards a democratic style when crises are dissolved.

The most important ingredient for a good school is a principal who trusts everyone who works in the school (Day, 2004).  The teachers in turn need to put their trust in the principal to frame and define their reality.  Trust is like a lubricant of an engine, enabling different components of the school to function smoothly without hiccups, where everyone works together to bring the school to a higher level.

Perhaps, more importantly, a good school will have a principal who is able to lead according to the context of the school mainly because leadership is context-sensitive (Bush & Montecinos, 2017).  Providing the appropriate leadership action that suits the situation would require a principal to collect and analyze data to identify the needs of the school.  This will define the right leadership and the right plans implemented.  No two schools are the same and each school needs its own unique way of leadership.  A principal then needs to have the flexibility and expertise to lead in different ways accordingly.   


Bush, T. (2007). Educational leadership and management: theory, policy and practice.

Bush, T.  & Montecinos, C. (2017). ‘Leadership preparation and development’, in T. Bush, L. Bell & D. Middlewood (eds).    Principles of Educational Leadership and Management,  3rd Edition, pp. 165-180, Sage Publication, London.

Day, C. (2004). The passion of successful leadership, School Leadership & Management, 24:4, 425-437

Nayar, V. (2013). Three differences between managers and leaders.

Villani, S. (2002). Mentoring Programs for New Teachers: Models of Induction and Support. Corwin Press, Inc., Sage Publication, Thousand Oaks, California.

Published by Dr Ashley Ng

Dr Ashley Yoon Mooi Ng AMN is Associate Professor in Education at The University of Nottingham Ningbo China, where she coordinates the post graduate research programmes. Her expertise is in Educational Leadership and Management and taught it in the University of Nottingham Malaysia and now she teaches International Higher Education in the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China. She supervises on both the EdD and PhD programmes, specifically on Educational Leadership and Management. She started her career teaching Geography in secondary schools and rose ranks to Head of Department to Principal in Malaysia. His Majesty the King of Malaysia conferred her the AMN (Ahli Mangku Negara) award in 2009 for her contribution to education in Malaysia. Among her other achievements are the Excellent Awards for Performance Beyond Expectation by the Malaysian MoE (2010) and UNM (2017 and 2018) and was nominated as Inspirational Woman in conjunction with International Women’s Day (2019).

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