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Balancing the needs of policy and practice, while remaining authentic: an analysis of leadership and governance in three national school leadership colleges

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The contribution that school leadership can make to school and teacher quality – and thereby to pupil learning – is widely recognised. Pressures on school leaders have increased in recent years, as a result of increased accountability and higher expectations from policy as well as wider societal, economic and technological changes. In response, a number of school systems have established national leadership colleges with a remit to improve the supply and quality of leadership. This article analyses how such national colleges are established and operate in the context of wider system governance, with a focus on examples in England, Scotland and Singapore. It is informed by a review of literature and interviews with current and former chief executives (CEOs) of the three colleges. Critics argue that these national colleges represent a form of 'institutionalised governance' (Gunter and Forrester, 2009: 349), a mechanism for enacting hierarchical policy reforms through the creation of a willing cadre of officially approved front- line leaders. Alternatively, viewed through the lens of complexity theory (Burns and Koster, 2016), these colleges can be seen as a means to align policy and practice and to enhance system and professional learning. This article finds evidence to support both lines of argument, but also highlights differences between the three colleges, for example in their relationship with policy and in their operating models. For example, while Singapore's settled policy environment means that the director can focus on working productively with policy makers, the two UK CEOs must navigate more volatile policy landscapes, requiring them to engage more actively with both policy and practice at the same time. Balancing these demands can be difficult, and whilst there is some evidence that the colleges can support system alignment and improvement, they are subject to political demands and changes which can compromise their role and potential impact.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2018

More about this publication?
  • Previously published under the title University of Wales Journal of Education, this internationally-distributed annual journal offers an arena for disseminating education research from national and international perspectives. The journal explores a range of controversial arguments relating to education, including areas such as bilingualism, religion in education, well-being and the standards of literacy and numeracy. The contemporary drive for improved education standards, within Wales and internationally, provides a wealth of interdisciplinary research opportunities, and the journal aims to publish research reports relating to these current issues. The journal also includes a comprehensive reviews section.

    Mae'r cylchgrawn blynyddol hwn, a adwaenid gynt fel Cylchgrawn Addysg Prifysgol Cymru, yn trafod agweddau datganoledig ar addysg, ynghyd ag ymdrin ag addysg o safbwynt cenedlaethol a rhyngwladol. Wrth ymhel â materion cyfoes yn ymwneud ag addysg, mae'r drafodaeth yn amlinellu safbwyntiau dadleuol ynghylch dwyieithrwydd a chrefydd yn ogystal â safonau llythrennedd a rhifedd. Mae'r ymdrechion i wella safonau addysg yng Nghymru a thu hwnt yn esgor ar feysydd ymchwil newydd, a bwriad y cyfnodolyn yw cyhoeddi erthyglau cryno yn ymdrin â materion cyfredol o'r fath. Mae'r cyfnodolyn hefyd yn cynnwys adran adolygiadau.

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