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date: 04 June 2020

Summary and Keywords

School leadership preparation and development in England has to be understood in the context of England’s radically changing school system. Local democratic accountability of schools has been reduced and a range of new actors have entered the state school system to sponsor and govern schools. Since 2010, the numbers of such “independent” state schools have increased rapidly. As the role of local authorities has diminished, the middle tier of governance has been transformed and continues to evolve, with new forms of grouping schools emerging, such as multi-academy trusts (MATs) and teaching school alliances (TSAs). This and the influential idea in England of the school system as a school-led, self-improving system have implications for leadership and its preparation and development. System leadership, by national leaders of education for example, is seen as an essential layer of support for and a catalyst to school improvement, in addition to leadership of and within schools. In the first decade of the 21st century, leadership preparation and development became more like a “nationalized” service, with the creation of the National College for School Leadership (later the National College for Teaching and Leadership). With the abolition of the National College in 2013, the direction of travel was towards more plural and diverse providers of school leadership and preparation—some would say a privatized model of provision—including MATs, TSAs, schools and other providers. There are both potential strengths and weaknesses in this model. More autonomy is promised for providers and participants in preparing for and developing leadership, which could foster creativity in modes of provision. There are also tensions. Policy aims that promote the quantitative measurement of education on the basis of instrumental and economistic goals sit uneasily with other policy aims that appear to value education as the nurturing of human development as a good in itself; yet different educational purposes have different implications for the practice of school leadership and hence its preparation and development. A further tension is that between a positive recognition in the leadership discourse of the distributed nature of leadership and a tendency to revert to a more familiar focus on positional leadership roles and traditional, hierarchical leadership. Other issues include the practical consequences of a system of plural and diverse providers. The system may increase opportunities for innovation and local responsiveness, but it is not clear how it will ensure sufficiently consistent high-quality leadership preparation and development across the system. There are questions to do with power and inequalities—for example, whether greater autonomy works well for some providers and participants in leadership preparation and development, whilst others are much more constrained and less able to find or create opportunities to develop their leadership practice. Space for critical and questioning research and professional enquiry, independent of the interests and priorities of providers and government, is essential. Such research and enquiry are needed to illuminate how leadership preparation and development practice actually evolves in this more plural system, and who shapes that practice in the differing local contexts across England.

Keywords: pedagogic frailty, distributed leadership, hierarchical leadership, regulative discourse, autonomy, control

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