Over the centuries there have been many approaches to the phenomenon 'school', and much has been said about it from many different points of view, including the philosophical, ideological, social, psychological, educational, political and so on. But it is only in the twentieth century that we have been systematically trying to build up a real body of knowledge about schools and what is happening in and around them. Basically, this body of knowledge is trying to give answers to two fundamental questions: what do schools really look like in their daily operations; and how do schools develop over time? The first approach is known as school effectiveness research, and is like taking a picture of a school and comparing that with pictures of other schools. The second approach is known as school improvement practice, and is like telling stories about development and change in schools. This volume will explore these two ways of looking at schools and will try to combine them, with the aim of producing practically based knowledge that is available immediately and that can be used to direct the development of schools towards a desired level of performance.
We should be aware of the fact that effectiveness research found its origins in the phenomenon of the ineffective school (Edmonds, 1979). If schools were really perfect, fulfilling their missions to the great satisfaction of pupils, parents, school boards and politicians at local and national level, nobody would ever have thought about 'more' or 'less' effectiveness, and if schools were a perfect work-environment for teachers, nobody would ever have wanted to start a process of school improvement with teachers through convincing them that improving their own performance is the right thing to do.