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 renewed 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 important agents for change in a research programme carried out in collaboration with Education Development Trust  (EdDevTrust).

Though not always receiving much attention, change agents from the middle tier of education systems can provide invaluable support and leadership to classroom teachers. Acting as mentors, coaches, or network facilitators, they can serve as drivers to enhancing professional culture and improving teaching and learning outcomes.

The research project is investigating the evidence and promising practices from around the world, with six national case studies.


Why research instructional leaders?  

A growing concern for education policymakers is how to improve teaching and learning quality at scale, and how to strengthen delivery systems to achieve this. Introducing or strengthening instructional leader roles at the middle tier of education systems may be part of the solution. 

In this new research collaboration, IIEP is investigating the potential of middle tier professionals to act as catalysts for change in local school reforms. 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.

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 

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.

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 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?
  3. How can we recruit these roles and strengthen them in order to maximize their pivotal position in the education delivery chain?


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. 

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*


Our documents and publications 

Find all of our research work related to the “Instructional Leaders” research programme published since 2019, in collaboration with EdDevTrust.