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Instructional leaders at the middle tier of education systems

New evidence is emerging on the role of instructional leaders in contexts where they have been given new impetus within education systems. Positioned outside the framework of formal assessment, and without a direct hierarchical relationship, these leaders support teachers in the development of their skills. IIEP-UNESCO is exploring their potential as an important agent for change in a research programme carried out in collaboration with Education Development Trust (EdDevTrust).

In some countries, instructional leaders work along-side teachers. What is the transformative potential of this middle-tier function for teaching practice? What about the impact on student achievement and the internal efficiency of education systems? The research project is investigating the evidence from six countries.  

Why research instructional leaders?  

While the functions of supervisor and/or inspector play a central role in the processes of promotion and formal evaluation of teachers, some countries have introduced or strengthened instructional leader roles at the middle-tier of education systems. The exact title of the position may vary from country to country but their mission is generally the same: to support the development of teachers' pedagogical and professional skills, by providing formative feedback. 

Launched in 2019, IIEP research project continues work carried out over the past 20 years on the theme of teacher careers and management. It is also based on knowledge acquired in the field of decentralization of education systems.

“Until now, teacher-related research has mainly focused on teachers themselves or school principals, and much less on the upper strata of education systems, at the middle tier. However, we know that support at all levels is necessary for an education system to be effective.” Barbara Tournier, IIEP Researcher 


3 research questions on instructional leaders

Working with EdDevTrust, we want to provide answers to several key questions.

  1. What can we learn from promising case studies about the potential for middle-tier roles to make an impact on teaching and learning quality?
  2. How can we recruit these roles and strengthen them in order to maximize their pivotal position in the education delivery chain?
  3. How do these roles bring about wider changes, such as mindset shifts and changes in professional cultures and practices, which contribute to teaching and learning quality?



Our methodology & research areas

This joint research project uses a qualitative methodology based on individual interviews, focus groups, and workshops, as well as a wide range of documentary resources and scientific studies at the crossroads of several fields of research related to education. The aim is to provide new evidence on good practices and conditions for success in teacher support at the middle tier.

IIEP-UNESCO and EdDevTrust will each conduct research on several remarkable initiatives relating to the role of instructional leader. We have selected both local experiments and reforms already underway on a large scale. 

  • Wales, United Kingdom [joint pilot project].
  • Delhi, India [IIEP-UNESCO]
  • Shanghai, China [IIEP-UNESCO]
  • Jordan [EdDevTrust]
  • Kenya [EdDevTrust] 
  • Rwanda [EdDevTrust]


“In response to teachers being isolated in their classrooms, the roles of instructional leaders seem to encourage cross-cutting collaborative practices in countries or cities that have adopted or experimented with these functions. Our research shows their impact not only on teachers' practices but also on student performance.” Chloé Chimier, IIEP Researcher 

How will our research help IIEP’s stakeholders and partners?


The results of this research will enrich IIEP-UNESCO's training content for educational planners and managers. In particular, it will feed into the Advanced Training Programme (ATP) module on teacher management. 

Technical support to States 

The lessons and results of this research, through IIEP-UNESCO’s recommendations and expertise, will directly benefit countries wishing to establish new roles at the middle tier in their education systems and to design and implement reforms.


The knowledge acquired from this research will add to the existing scientific literature in the field of teacher and education system management – and ultimately help to inform countries' decisions and policy orientations. 

This research project specifically addresses our Thematic Priority 2 for the period 2018–2021.

Improving cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes of education

More information on IIEP's 2018-2021 strategy