Who’d be a School Leader? Current and Future Challenges

November 7, 2013 • LEADERSHIP, Leadership Development

Strong school leadership is viewed as especially important for the regeneration of failing schools. Below, Peter Earley draws upon recent research into school leadership in England to discuss some of the challenges faced now and in the future, and presents key messages about how school leaders should work to ensure improved school performance.

Colleagues at London’s Institute of Education and the National Foundation for Educational Research in England have recently completed a major research report on the current state of school leadership and how leaders have responded to the ever-changing policy landscape.1 Comparisons with a similar study into the leadership landscape conducted over ten years ago enable us to see how school leadership has changed over the first decade of the 21st century to meet the ever-growing and changing demands of policy-makers and other stakeholders.2 The constant factor over this time period, fuelled by policy makers’ love of international initiatives such as the OECD’s PISA reports, has been the need to raise standards and continuously improve in an attempt to raise performance scores and enhance the quality of pupils’ learning experiences. This last decade in education has been described by Cranston3 worldwide as ‘an era of standards-based agendas, enhanced centralized accountability systems where improved student learning, narrowly defined, becomes the mantra for school leaders, who themselves are subject to enhanced accountabilities’.

Readers of this journal will be aware that there are numerous studies from throughout the world, some methodologically strong, others less so, which claim that leadership is a crucial factor in organisational effectiveness. The education sector is no different. Strong school leadership is viewed as especially important for the regeneration of failing schools and in enabling them to become ‘world class’. Over the last decade the discourse about leadership has grown in importance both in the UK and globally and reflects the significance policy-makers accord to the notion of educational leaders as the key drivers of school improvement.

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