Constructions and Purposes of School Leadership in the UK

Philip Woods, Deidre Torrance, Caitlin Donnelly, Tom Hamilton, Ken Jones, Ian Potter

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This article offers a comparative analysis and interpretation of leadership in the four UK education jurisdictions (Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland), informed by the articles in this special issue and by a project report, all outcomes of an initiative, ‘Educational Leadership, Management and Administration in the United Kingdom: A Comparative Review’, funded by the British Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society. The article explores the constructions of leadership in the school systems of the four jurisdictions and the purposes those constructions are fulfilling concerning the governance of education. The comparative analysis identifies four purposes–relational, institutional-reform focused, masking and space-making. This typology of purposes is used to illuminate the different emphases across the jurisdictions. A relational purpose may be discerned more strongly in Wales and Scotland, a neo-liberal institutional-focused purpose more so in England, and relational and neo-liberal threads are intertwined in Northern Ireland in the context of legacies of community divisions. At the same time in all four jurisdictions, each of the purposes is given expression alongside, intermingling with or challenging neo-liberal threads of change and the dynamic between them helps shape the context in which leaders in the school systems create and practise leadership.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)152-170
Number of pages19
JournalSchool Leadership and Management
Issue number1-2
Early online date24 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2021


  • School leaders
  • education policy
  • educational leadership
  • governance
  • school reform
  • school systems


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