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Educational leadership: what are the current issues and how should they be studied?

Alison Fox

2016 is a great time to review the state of educational leadership research and reflect on firstly, what are the key contemporary issues and secondly, how best to research them. Educational leadership has been studied from a school perspective – in particular the traditions of school effectiveness and school improvement – and from the perspective of individual school leaders and their personal styles/characteristics. In the last decade there has been a broadening to consider distributed and collective, teacher, views of leadership. However, have we offered a platform for the full range of leadership issues to be raised and reflected on the most appropriate ways to research them? Who is currently considering feminism in educational leadership, a topic popular in the 1990s (e.g. Blackmore, 1999; Strachan, 1999) and reviewed and revisited in the mid-2000s (e.g. Young and astral, 2012; Linley and Preston, 2009)? How is gender and leadership currently conceptualised and studied? Are the influences of all views of gender being considered and contradictions of views revealed, as advocated by Fuller (2014)?

As we celebrated international women’s day on 8th March, see the blog from the IoE about the current state of women in academic leadership  which also refers to research activity in the BELMAS RIG in Gender and Leadership. LGBT perspectives on educational leadership also need to be considered, beyond student leadership (e.g. Renn and Bilodeau, 2005). Who is considering this and how? What about studies of faith and educational leadership? Which faiths are included (or excluded) from our windows into educational leadership? There is important work on the connections between Islam and the enactment of leadership in educational settings e.g. Shah (2006) and thinking about single faith schools e.g. Cairns et al (2004) but what about the relationship between faiths such as Judaism, Sikhism or Buddhism and educational leadership?

There are many aspects of educational leadership still to be researched. Many educational researchers, whatever their focus, will have a leadership dimension – although perhaps yet to be foregrounded? Those studying curriculum development, social justice or pupil wellbeing for example. The educational leaders themselves might be best placed to prioritise the issues most affecting them in their practice. As well as listening to current educational leaders and reflecting on those not yet heard to identify issues worthy of study, the next open-mindedness needed by researchers is to review the most appropriate ways to research issues related to educational leadership.

Whilst there has been diversification from quantitative approaches and modelling in school effectiveness research to include qualitative approaches, such as narrative, life history and case study, have we fully embraced the insights to be gained by methods such as phenomology, autoethnography and critical approaches? BERA and BELMAS offer two events in 2016 as a stage to consider the scope of contemporary issues and the breadth of research designs to investigate and shed light on them. The first is hosted by Newcastle University on April 26th. The second will fall within the remit of the Educational Leadership SIG at the BERA annual conference in Leeds. For further information on the programme, as it becomes available, consult the BERA website.


Blackmore, J. (1999) Troubling Women Feminism, Leadership and Educational Change, Buckingham: Open University Press.

Cairns, J., Gardner, R. and Lawton, D. 2004 Faith schools: consensus or conflict? London: Routledge.

Fuller, K. (2014) Gender educational leadership: beneath the monoglossic facade, Gender and Education, 26(4): 321-337.

Linley, A.L. and Preston, A. (2009) Understanding leadership experiences: the need for story sharing and feminist literature as a survival manual for leadership, Gender and Education, 21(6): 769-777.

Renn, K.A and Bilodeau, B.L. (2005) Leadership Identity Development among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Student Leaders, NASPA Journal, 42(3): 342-367.

Shah, S. (2006) Educational leadership: an Islamic perspective, British Educational Research Journal, 32(3): 363-385.

Strachan, J. (1999) Feminist Educational Leadership: Locating the concepts in practice, Gender and Education, 11(3): 309-322.

Young, M.D. and Skrla, L. (2012) Reconsidering feminist research in educational leadership, Albany: State University of New York Press.