This qualitative, historical study, based on interviews with participants and archive data, reconstructs the extended process through which three successive heads contributed to the transformation of the Felix Holt School. Over a 10‐year period the roll rose from 560 to 1109, while the percentage of pupils achieving 5 GCSE higher grades increased from a low point of 13% to 57% in 2002. Unlike the majority of schools nationally, Felix Holt moved definitively from one level of effectiveness to another. Concepts from the leadership literature frame an analysis of how three contrasting leaders influenced organizational characteristics. Despite disruption and turbulence as the heads adopted discontinuous strategies and contrasting styles, their respective contributions broke the mould and built the capacity of the school. Successful transition from one leader to another seems to be a critical but neglected dimension of sustainable improvement. All those concerned with the appointment of school leaders are recommended to give more care to managing their arrival, induction and departure
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