Policy Assessment Toolset
for equity and learning

The systematic performance of school leadership policy evaluations and assessments promote accountability and strengthen policy coherence. The Policy Assessment Toolset is linked to all other toolsets because the focus, the objectives, the methods and the outcomes of ecologically valid policy evaluations and assessments should essentially reflect what policy makers, school leaders and other school stakeholders believe that matters about policy, its implementation and impact.
Policy evaluation is the systematic and objective assessment of a planned, on-going or completed policy initiative (e.g. programme or project). The aim is to determine its significance and relevance, the fulfilment of objectives, its efficiency, effectiveness, impact, sustainability and scalability.

School leadership policy evaluation criteria vary. These may include:

significance and relevance. Responsiveness to the needs of school leaders in relation to their mission in addressing challenges of equity and learning in their schools. Validity of its objectives and the consistency between the overall goal, the objectives, the activities and the impacts.
effectiveness of a school leadership programme's performance in light of specified objectives,
efficiency in maximizing benefits and/or minimizing cost (as compared to alternative policy options),
impact of the policy initiative, it terms of intended or unintended positive and negative changes that, directly or indirectly, were produced (or estimated to be produced) by its implementation,
sustainability of a school leadership programme's benefits and factors affecting it, and
scalability of a school leadership programme.

Why do we need to assess policy initiatives?
From a policy perspective, policy assessment is a process that needs to be embedded in all major stages of decision making, from policy formulation, to adoption, to implementation and to summative evaluation.

In the context of ex-ante evaluation, assessment is a necessary step prior to the undertaking of a critical new policy initiative, to provide evidence that will allow policy-makers and school leaders to appraise needs and different options and take informed policy decisions.
Assessment, as part of a 'policy implementation life-cycle', contributes to fine-tune subsequent policies and actions.
In the context of ex-post evaluation, i.e., after a policy has been implemented in full, assessment is necessary to provide evidence regarding its actual impact in terms of both intended and unintended outcomes, to identify the factors of success or failure, to assess the sustainability of results and impacts, and to draw conclusions that may inform other interventions.

Applications of school leadership policy evaluation and assessment can range widely
In the policy field of school education there is a wide range of evaluation frameworks and assessment methods, techniques, tools and practices for conducting school leadership policy evaluation and assessment. These may vary according to:

implicitly or explicitly stated, political/ideological and epistemological frameworks regarding the nature of school leadership policy and policy development processes,
the emphasis placed on the role and level of engagement of different school education stakeholders (e.g. policy makers, experts, administrators, principals, teachers, parents, students etc.) in the design, implementation and use of school leadership policy evaluation or appraisal and related assessment approaches,
the scope, the type and complexity of a school leadership policy, the nature of its intended outcomes, and the level of its implementation (single school-level policy, local, regional or national policy),
their degree of formalisation, depending on whether or not evaluators are experts in performing evaluative research and analysis and/or follow a highly prescribed set of rules and data collection methods, and
the goals of school leadership policy evaluation.

School leadership policy assessment challenges
Assessing the potential and actual impacts of a policy on school leadership is difficult. It is reasonable to expect that it is hard to establish causal relationships between specific school leadership policies and particular effects on students' performance or schools' record on issues of equity.

Time-lag between policy formation and implementation and policy outcomes and impact is one reason. There always exists a time lag between:

specifying a problem requiring policy action,
introducing an initiative,
changing the situation on the ground
(e.g. changing the capacities school leaders to deal with issues of equity and learning or enabling school leaders to introduce more flexible solutions to such challenges by giving more room for manoeuvre to schools), and
reaping the benefits of improved school leadership (e.g., reduced drop-out rates, better learning performance by all students, etc.).

Another reason is that school leadership is rather indirectly linked to how well students do in school or how fairly and inclusively learning opportunities and learning outcomes are “distributed” in schools. As previous research has shown, the impact of school leadership is indirect and moderated by teachers and other factors.

Yet another reason is that the impact of school leadership policies is likely to be complex and predominantly qualitative in nature.