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Using mixed methods to investigate school improvement and the role of leadership: an example of a longitudinal study in England

Sammons, Pamela; Davis, Susila; Day, Christopher; Gu, Qing


Pamela Sammons

Susila Davis

Qing Gu


Purpose-The purpose of this paper is to discuss the use of mixed methods research in a major three year project and focuses on the contribution of quantitative and qualitative approaches to study school improvement. It discusses the procedures and multiple data sources used in studying improvement using the example of a recent study of the role of leadership in promoting improvement in primary and secondary schools’ academic results in England. Although the definition of improvement used was based on robust analyses of data on students’ academic outcomes, the mixed methods design enabled a broader perspective to be achieved.

Design/methodology/approach-The study illustrates how the multilevel analysis of students’ national assessment and examination results based on national data sets for primary and secondary schools in England were used to investigate the concept of academic effectiveness based on value-added methodology. Using three successive years of national results a purposive sample of schools were identified that could be classified as both effective and improving over the period 2003-2005. In addition, surveys and interviews were used to gather evidence of the role of stakeholder perceptions in investigating school improvement strategies and processes.

Findings-National student attainment data sets were used for the identification of improving and effective schools and revealed the importance of considering their different starting points in their classification of three distinctive improvement groups. The combination of quantitative survey data from headteachers and key staff with qualitative case study data enabled a range of analysis strategies and the development of statistical models and deeper understanding of the role of leadership.

Research limitations/implications-The limitations of a focus on only academic outcomes and “value-added” measures of student progress are discussed. The challenges and opportunities faced in analysis and integration of the different sources of evidence are briefly explored.

Practical implications-The study contributes to the knowledge base on the identification of school improvement and use of performance data. The findings on strategies and processes that support improvement are of relevance to policy makers and practitioners, especially school leaders.

Originality/value-The mixed methods design adopted in the study enabled the research to combine rigorous quantitative and in-depth qualitative data in new ways to extend and make new claims to knowledge about the role of school leadership in promoting school improvement based on the study of effective and improved schools’ experiences.


Sammons, P., Davis, S., Day, C., & Gu, Q. (2014). Using mixed methods to investigate school improvement and the role of leadership: an example of a longitudinal study in England. Journal of Educational Administration, 52(5),

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 1, 2014
Deposit Date Mar 31, 2016
Publicly Available Date Mar 31, 2016
Journal Journal of Educational Administration
Print ISSN 0957-8234
Electronic ISSN 0957-8234
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 52
Issue 5
Keywords Leadership, Primary schools, Secondary schools, School improvement, Mixed methods research
Public URL
Publisher URL


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