Constructions and purposes of school leadership in the UK

Philip A. Woods*, Deirdre Torrance, Caitlin Donnelly, Tom Hamilton, Ken Jones, Ian Potter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
47 Downloads (Pure)


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
JournalSchool Leadership and Management
Issue number1-2
Early online date24 Feb 2021
Publication statusEarly online date - 24 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are immensely appreciative of the time and energy that everyone contributed to the UK Review project, both in terms of participation and in terms of feeding back on the final draft of the Project Report. A list of conference participants with affiliations at the time of the conferences, as well as membership of the project team beyond the editors of this special issue, is given in the Appendix of the Project Report (Woods et al. ). We are also grateful to the conference keynote presenters for their careful consideration of the themes explored through their conference paper and its presentation, as well as for the revised and enhanced versions of those papers constituting articles one to eight of this special issue. We are pleased to acknowledge the financial, practical and administration support of BELMAS (British Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society) for the project which, rather than being designed as a research study, was devised as a participative exercise involving workshop-style conferences.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Strategy and Management


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