This paper describes and analyses the work of a large scale improvement project in England in order to find more effective ways of fostering equity within education systems. The project involved an approach based on an analysis of local context, and used processes of networking and collaboration in order to make better use of available expertise. Reflecting on the impact and difficulties involved in using such an approach, the paper draws out lessons that may be relevant to other contexts. Consideration is also given to the implications for policy makers, practitioners and community stakeholders. © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.