The Ripple Effect

by Andy Hargreaves and Dean Fink


Schools in New Zealand have found themselves having to compete with other schools in their area. The results inevitably mean that one school’s gain is another’s loss. Many principals and their boards of trustees have had to make difficult decisions around the issue of competition.

Hargreaves and Fink report on situations in the United States, Britain, Canada, and Australia where schools have been faced with such decisions. Their research graphically illustrates the disastrous ‘ripple effect’ that causes some schools to suffer at the expense of others.

Recent school re-organisations have thrown up the issues again in New Zealand. Hargreaves and Fink suggest some alternative ways to think about solving the issues caused by forced competition among schools. In particular they recommend distributing the leadership skills of very successful schools across a wider area, providing coaching, and sharing of resources. “By promoting practical and positive strategies, socially just leadership can have an actively restorative effect on neighbouring schools.”

Their research provides the basis for different kinds of conversations across schools so that leaders can work out solutions to complex situations through creating ‘chains of care’.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions may guide you in your reading of this article:

  • What ripples might your school cause for other schools in your area? What opportunities could your leadership team suggest for creating more positive collaborations?
  • Consider the impact of your school’s policies on the local area in terms of student learning outcomes. In order to collaborate with schools in your neighbourhood, are there some current policies that your school is operating that would need to change?
  • Do you have any similar examples of the impact of inter-school competition and/or collaboration in your area that you could write up and publish for the New Zealand context?

Further reading

Pearce, D., and Gordon, L. (n.d). In the zone: New Zealand’s legislation for a system of school choice and its effects. London Review of Education.


Hargreaves, D., and Fink, D. (2006). The ripple effect. Educational Leadership, 63(8), 16–21.

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