It is beyond dispute that change is endemic in education although it has been suggested that change does not necessarily lead to improvement (Ainscow et al., 1994). The fact that in recent years change has tended to be systemic, centralized and ‘top down’ arguably stems from a global movement in which the education system is seen as a technology with which national governments can pursue their economic aims (Ball, 1999; Goodson, 1994; Elliott, 1998a). According to Andy Hargreaves, we have a modernistic education system—one which is bureaucratic and increasingly controlled from the centre—in which knowledge has become a commodity and schools are organized along factory lines. But, at the same time, teachers are working within conditions of postmodernity, with all that implies about the breaking down of traditional certainties, rapidly changing technologies and challenges to established social and economic relationships. This leads to interesting scenarios in which the dynamic tension between ‘vision’ and ‘voice’ is clearly manifest (Hargreaves, 1994:248). In schools, increasingly we hear calls for stronger leadership and, at the same time, calls for greater collegiality, and these might seem on the surface at least to be at odds with each other; but if our schools are significantly to improve their performance in the future, it is clear that these two factors have to be reconciled.
It is against this backdrop that ‘school improvement’ has become a dominant educational discourse which successive governments have embraced and, some might say, colonized. The most widely used definition of school improvement can be traced back to the International School Improvement Project (ISIP) which says that school improvement is:
a systematic sustained effort aimed at change in learning conditions and other related internal conditions in one or more schools, with the ultimate aim of accomplishing educational goals more effectively.
(van Velzen et al., 1985)
This project had a major influence on British school improvement work, in particular on the thinking of David Hopkins and the shape of the