Creative Public Leadership: how school system leaders can create the conditions for system-wide innovation - RSA

Creative Public Leadership - how school system leaders can create the conditions for system-wide innovation


  • Education and learning

If transformation is to come from within education systems themselves, rather than left to market forces or developments in technology, then it will depend upon the emergence of a different kind of leadership.

This report produced in partnership with the Innovation Unit and the support of our knowledge partners WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education) explores how school systems can create the conditions for successful innovation that transform outcomes for all learners.

We argue that if we are to improve performance overall, ensure equity, and develop and a wider set of outcomes, then serious, disciplined and radical innovation is required at all levels. Whilst the role of government remains crucial, we need to draw on resources from both within and beyond traditional public institutions.

We believe that this will require a move towards a new concept of Creative Public Leadership. In essence this positions the state as an authorising, facilitative and supportive platform for systemic innovation. To test our emergent thinking, we set out nine first steps to re-orient the role public system leaders might play.

  1. Build the case for change
  2. Desist from waves of centrally-driven short-term reforms
  3. Develop outward as well as upward accountability, to learners and localities
  4. Create and protect genuine space for local curriculum designs
  5. Prioritize innovations that transform approaches to assessing students
  6. Place intentional, rigorous focus on the development of teachers’ innovation capabilities, throughout their careers
  7. Redirect some proportion of a jurisdiction’s education spending to an explicit incubator program, tasked with radically innovating on behalf of the system as a whole
  8. Build systems of collaborative peer learning to support the adaptive scaling of innovation
  9. Put system entrepreneurship at the heart of system leadership

We offer these proposed first steps as suggestions for those frustrated with the rate of change, but who feel locked into a resilient ‘system’ seemingly impermeable to shift. Each one of them can be instanced by exemplars across the globe – few in numbers but increasingly influential. WISE creates the space for debate about the viability of our proposals – what resonates, what has been omitted, and how momentum can be built. A movement for radical innovation in publicly-funded education is overdue, and we need a road map. This report offers a sketch.


World Innovation Summit for Education   Innovation Unit


Picture of Joe Hallgarten
Former Associate

Picture of Valerie Hannon
Valerie Hannon
Co-Founder, Innovation Unit

Picture of Tom Beresford
Tom Beresford
Project Coordinator and Researcher, Innovation Unit