Inclusive inspiration

Teachers’ leadership styles and student performance

Do ‘inclusive’ leadership styles in teachers motivate students? A study by Paul Parham and Gloria Moss at Sevenoaks School suggests there is a significant correlation.  

Findings in industry and HE

Research in higher education and industry has shown a strong association between employer leadership style and student/employee perceptions of their own productivity, motivation and mental wellbeing.  These associations have been shown to be positive when leadership behaviours are perceived to be inclusive (the relative competencies are shown in Table 1) and negative when non-inclusive.  These inclusive leadership competencies are derived from a large-scale industrial study (Moss, 2016), which was modified for use in higher education.

Table 1: inclusive leadership competencies
Competence Description
Individualised consideration Teachers showing individual interest and offering one-to-one support for students
Idealised influence Teachers having admirable qualities that students want to identify with
Inspirational motivation Providing an appealing vision that inspires students
Intellectual stimulation Encouraging students to develop their ideas and be challenged
Unqualified acceptance Being inclusive in considering students
Empathy Putting oneself mentally and emotionally in the student’s place
Listening Actively listening to students
Persuasion Being able to influence students
Confidence building Providing students with opportunities and recognition
Growth Encouraging students to reach their full potential
Foresight Having the ability to anticipate events and where they might lead
Conceptualisation Having a vision about possibilities and articulating that vision to students
Awareness Being fully open and aware of environmental cues
Stewardship Articulating the belief that the school’s legacy is to contribute to society
Healing Helping students cope with any burdens
 School study

However, the impact of inclusive leadership on secondary school students has been overlooked.  So, Sevenoaks School, in conjunction with Professor Gloria Moss, of the IPE Management School, undertook a rigorous, quantitative study, the only one to date, examining whether the strong association between leadership style and student performance observed in higher education and industry also exists in the secondary school environment. Teaching in mathematics classes provided the focus for the study.

Survey instrument

To enable comparison with the previous studies, the same validated survey instrument was used, an anonymous online multiple-choice questionnaire that students completed at the start of lessons or as homework. Student participation was designed on an opt-out basis, with data collection occurring from March to August 2019. The survey consisted of four demographic questions on gender, nationality, year group and ethnicity, 34 questions on students’ perceptions of mathematics teachers’ leadership characteristics, and 12 questions on students’ perceptions of their own productivity, wellbeing and motivation, with students’ responses plotted against a Likert scale. In total, 721 students completed the questionnaire (66.1% response rate).


A scatterplot of student performance versus mathematics teachers’ inclusive leadership score (Figure 1) produced a correlation coefficient of r = 0.81.

Figure 1: Scatterplot of student performance versus teachers’ inclusive leadership score.

This result indicates a strong positive linear correlation between these variables, consistent with the correlations found in the earlier studies. The results show that the more inclusive are teachers’ leadership style, the better students perceived their performance. Additional analyses also revealed an association between inclusive leadership and the three components of student performance – namely, productivity (r = 0.72), wellbeing (r = 0.75), and motivation (r = 0.76).

Inclusive leadership and student performance: a strong link

Overall, a strong, statistically significant positive association was found between mathematics teachers’ degree of inclusiveness and student performance. This correlation did not differ by gender or by nationality. However, the strength of the association decreased significantly with students’ advancing age, indicating increased student self-motivation, resilience and ability to act as independent learners.

It is hoped that this large-scale empirical study, the first examining inclusive leadership in schools, can provide a template for further quantitative school-based studies on inclusive leadership. Indeed, the establishment of such evidence-based, research-led teaching strategies is a key goal of the Institute of Teaching and Learning at Sevenoaks School.


Dr Paul Parham (, is a teacher of mathematics at Sevenoaks School and an Honorary Lecturer at Imperial College, London.



Professor Gloria Moss (, lectures at the IPE Management School, Paris.





Moss, G. (2019), Inclusive Leadership, Routledge, Abingdon

Moss, G., Sims, C., David, A and Dodd, I. (2016), Inclusive Leadership. Driving Performance through Diversity, London:  Employers Network on Equality and Inclusion (ENEI)


Feature Image: by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay