Sociologies of Leadership in Free School Development

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


The paper reports findings that emerged from Doctoral research specifically related to strategic leadership in the context of Free School development. Free School leadership and management are characterised by a context of increased autonomy over areas of operational and strategic decision making and formal independence from local state control. The complexity of leadership and management is further increased by the inclusion of a diverse range of civil society actors in founding Free Schools; drawing upon diverse sources of social capital, motivations and power configurations. Alongside surveys completed by each participant 24 interviews were conducted with founder-governors in a range of roles within three primary Free Schools. These were also supported by further interviews and surveys conducted with chairs of three other schools. The broad research sought to analyse and interpret founder-governor experiences of the strategic development process. Data was analysed in adherence to a constructionist grounded theory approach; using CAQDAS to generate codes and themes. This paper presents one aspect of the theory that emerged from the empirical data concerning the influence of social processes within the schools on the adoption and enactment of leadership and management roles. Adopting a social, and sociological, perspective on leadership and management the paper illustrates the ways in which governors and staff both enable and constrain one another within the complexity of the development process. The paper argues that leadership cannot be fully understood in terms of formal governance hierarchies. Whether and how leadership and management potential is unlocked also significantly depends upon permissive and restrictive relations that emerge both beyond and within the confines of different hierarchical levels. The consequence being that the achievement of potential depends in part upon the development of individual and group identities that reflect each school’s unique context. This has implications for understanding how leadership potential might be shaped by both established and developing relations within new school settings, including the role that cliques, allegiances and friendships play. It therefore also reveals a need for caution in addressing issues of internal governance and governing. Individuals may in some instances struggle to maintain simultaneous roles in empowering others to act whilst also needing to limit or shape areas of conduct through accountability. The lessons from the paper may help practitioners understand how to maximise the potential of others. It also draws attention to the need to reconsider governance in the context of development processes characterised by social complexity.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2016
EventBritish Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society: Unlocking leadership and management potential in different contexts - Carden Park, Cheshire, United Kingdom
Duration: 8 Jul 201610 Jul 2016


ConferenceBritish Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society
Abbreviated titleBELMAS Annual Conference 2016
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • school leadership
  • Free Schools
  • Sociological Factors
  • governance
  • Social complexity


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