John West-Burnham

Educational Leadership Development

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It seems unlikely that there will be and significant upturn in public expenditure in the near future. Given all the pressures on performance and the need to change it does seem that schools will have to become more adept at securing ‘more for less’. Most schools are already cost-effective and working to high levels of efficiency – although this might be worth testing with regard to such issues as class size and the deployment of teaching assistants as per the Sutton Trust report.

In terms of a fundamental rethink of the economics of educational provision then it might be that increased collaboration is one of the most appropriate ways forward. A range of possible benefits can be advanced:

  1. Standards are likely to rise as the result of the dissemination of best practice across schools and between schools – ‘closing the gap’ is more achievable through collaboration and the ‘deprivatisation’ of successful practice.
  2. Succession planning will be significantly enhanced by the developmental opportunities offered through systems leadership strategies.
  3. There is the potential for significant economies of scale in economic terms – notably in terms of learning resources and materials.
  4. Shared CPD has the potential to enhance consistent practice and embed improvement and cross-fertilise good ideas and the best practice.
  5. Strategic planning is more likely to be effective through collaborative governance.
  6. Integration across phases and primary-secondary transfer is likely to enhance the learning experience of pupils through integrated and collective approaches.
  7. Intervention to support pupils would be more effective with consistent record keeping, monitoring and use of data.
  8. Deployment of staff could be more flexible and effective.
  9. The potential for successful collaboration with other agencies would be significantly enhanced. (Robins and West-Burnham 2011:17)

So what would appear to be necessary are school leaders who are confident in their ability to lead institutional improvement in their own school and then have the confidence, clarity of moral purpose and professional commitment to engage with other schools to secure equity across the system. It might be worth considering the extent to which schools functioning autonomously can achieve the reform and school improvement agenda:

There are common sense and pragmatic reasons for schools’ collaboration in learning networks to achieve transformation. A proper understanding of our knowledge base reveals it to be distributed, constructed and situated in our working practices. This means that collaboration across schools is a necessity rather than an optional extra in the transformation project. (Desforges 2006: 2)

In other words, the more we share our effective practice the more likely we are to get it right and then to secure and embed it in practice:

There is evidence that the process of change is more resilient and improvement more sustainable when school collaborate and learn from other schools. Schools that sustain improvement are usually well networked and have a good structure of internal support.

While such schools may be considered to be leading the way for others to follow, the reciprocal nature of the relationship and the opportunities for schools to innovate together means there is added value in both directions from these forms of collaboration. (Leithwood et al 2010: 232)

For collaboration to work leadership may have to be reconfigured away from focusing on institutional integrity and performance to securing collaborative strategies and we may need to think of leadership in terms of the following model.



This brief discussion has sought to identify a range of trends and the implications they have for educational leadership. In summary there are a number of possible propositions to start exploring issues around our future understanding of leadership in education:

  • Securing equal access to effective learning and the curriculum is primarily a moral activity.
  • Learning is most likely to flourish in communities – not formal organisations.
  • Trust may be the single most powerful factor in securing sustainable improvement.
  • There is a need to resist the blandishments of commercial entrepreneurship and rather seek to combine enterprise with an ethical sense of responsibility.
  • Replacing autonomy with collaboration requires a fundamental change in the psychological contract we work through.

A major challenge is how do we develop these approaches and qualities in leaders?



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