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Review of school leadership landscape Project Directors: Professor Peter Earley and Dr Rob Higham Institute of Education, London Headteacher respondents: Dr Jamie Clarke and Fran Hargrove

The Research Project NCSL commissioned the Institute of Education to undertake a research review of school leadership in England, in particular on how school leaders across different phases and contexts are responding to the changes underway across the education system and the challenges (and opportunities) these present for leadership and leadership development.

The project consisted of four overlapping phases: 

Phase 1: A literature review and stakeholder interviews

Phase 2: An analysis of the leadership labour market/demographics using existing data sets, including School Workforce Census 2010 & 2011

Phase 3: A national survey of school leaders (HTs and SL/MLs) and chairs of GBs

Phase 4: In-depth case studies (8) and collection of qualitative data via interviews (20) and focus groups with school leaders (n=3)

Main themes and areas 1: Demography and models 2. Current policy landscape 3: Current leadership challenges

4: Leadership and time use 5: Leadership support and development 6. Conclusions

2: Current policy landscape A debate about autonomy? Two helpful concepts:

1. Lundquist (1987): the freedom and capacity to act. 2. Simkins (1997): power: - Criteria power: to define the aims and purposes of a service; the ‘why and what’ - Operational power: over how the service is to be provided and resourced; the ‘how’

2: Current policy landscape 

Half of heads positive about their school becoming more independent and autonomous (a third negative). Over half did not think their school would actually gain more autonomy.

Respondents most positive about a policy focus on schools working together to promote improvement (approx 80%).

Respondents were least positive about the changing role of Local Authorities (approx 70%).

Respondents (over 80%) felt their school had the confidence to manage current policy change. But: 

Only 33% of heads agreed they felt able to work with policy to support their school’s aims and values; 33% disagreed.

Only 20% of heads agreed that pupils would benefit; 41% disagreed

2: Current policy landscape Class


Thematic definition



Positive about policy and already pursuing new opportunities – ‘Confident’



Mildly positive about policy, while cautious about engaging – ‘Cautious’





Apprehensive about policy, concerned about autonomy and hesitant to engage – ‘Concerned’ Negative about policy and demotivated by its potential impacts – ‘Constrained’

Relatively even spread (by school type, phase, Ofsted, FSM). Likelihood of: •

Academies and heads of ‘outstanding’ secondaries being located in Class 1

‘Good’ schools being located in Class 2 and 3

Primary, community and VC schools being located in Class 4.

Headteacher responses 

A secondary school head

A primary school head

Activity on your tables 

Consider the research findings as well as the headteachers’ comments

How do they resonate with your own experiences to date? (positive and negative)

What does autonomy mean in your context? - The what, the why and the how? 

3: Current leadership challenges What are the 3 most significant leadership challenges you anticipate facing over the next 18 months


Finance/Budget issues - (reductions in funding/austerity measures)


New Ofsted framework - (preparing for/managing/being inspected using the new framework)


Sustaining/Improving pupil outcomes/ results/(high) standards of attainment/ Meeting increased floor targets


Academy status - (complexities/to change or not/forced on us)


Staff recruitment/retention - (including redundancies/dismissals)


Admissions/Pupil numbers - (impact of falling roll/ oversubscription/competition from other local schools)


Curriculum changes/Introduction of new National Curriculum


Change/Reduction in Local Authority support - (minimising impact/managing without/leading to rural isolation)


The rapid pace of policy change (coping with/keep staff informed)



4: Leadership and time use 

62% of headteachers and 53% of senior/middle leaders felt they spent the right amount of time on leadership generally.

c70%: too much time on administration (38% of heads on management).

Not enough time on the leadership of teaching and learning (58% and 49% respectively) - and own teaching and professional development.

It was still considered a ‘balancing act’ on how much time to spend in working with and supporting other schools and partnerships as well as keeping focus on maintaining success in one’s own institution.

4: Balancing strategic and operational Strategies used to date to help balance strategic and operational demands on leadership time Appointed school business manager or bursar Developed school business manager/bursar post into a senior team role Delegated or further embedded more strategic responsibilities across senior team

Widened SLT membership Built a flatter less hierarchical leadership structure and ethos Encouraged and enabled teachers to contribute to school leadership Shared specific leadership responsibilities with a partner or across a family of schools Developed an Executive Head and Head of School model


No plans
















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5: External support for leaders

Local Authority School Improvement Partner Informal support from a school Professional Association/Union NCSL Ofsted A private consultant Diocese Board or Chain Schools Forum Commercial organisation SSAT/Schools Network NLE/LLE Teaching School Central services of a school chain SLE Other N=

Current sources of support

Three most important sources now

Three most important in 18 months





% points

87 77 56 56 46 35 28 28 22 19 15 11 8 3 2 8 833

54 52 37 23 19 13 19 13 7 9 6 6 4 2 1 7 827

29 32 31 23 19 15 20 13 7 15 11 14 13 7 5 7 826

-25 -20 -6 0 0 +2 +1 0 0 +6 +5 +8 +9 +5 +4 0 -

5: External support for leaders 

42% of heads were already stopping or had plans to stop using services provided by their LA. However, 69% said they were already or were planning to collaborate with other schools to fund aspects of their LA improvement service to ensure they were sustained.

On teaching schools, 2% of schools in the process of becoming a teaching school and 9% planning to submit an application. 10% already participating in a TSA, with 18% planning to do so. 

May be unsurprisingly given first 100 teaching schools had only been designated a term before the survey was undertaken.

However, 70% of heads had no current plans to participate formally in a TSA and 61% had no plans to work informally with a teaching school

Activity on your tables 

Consider the research findings

How do they compare with your own use of time and balancing the strategic and operational

Given the new landscape where do school leaders go for their support and development?

Development needs 

Headteachers reported their greatest development needs included ‘strategies for closing attainment gaps’ and ‘developing future leaders for succession planning’.

They also identified ‘leading curriculum change and innovation’, ‘modelling excellence in the leadership of teaching and learning’ and ‘forming partnerships with schools and agencies to improve outcomes’.

Conclusions • The complexity of school leadership continues to increase with a consequent intensification of work. • The need to develop internal school capacity and effective partnerships appear essential as schools navigate policy changes. • There is a substantial risk that the nature and demands of current policy change will disrupt the focus on teaching and learning. • The landscape is uneven and there are signs that potential fault-lines could be emerging between leaders across school phases, contexts and Ofsted gradings.

Publications ď Ź

Earley, P, Higham, R et al, (2012) Review of the Leadership Landscape. Nottingham: National College for School Leadership.

ď Ź

Earley, P (2013) Exploring the School Leadership Landscape: Changing demands, changing realities, London: Bloomsbury

Leadership landscape June 2013  

Leadership landscape June 2013

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