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Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Refashioning school leadership: from traditional management into collaborative collegial leadership.

Dynamic, emergent and ever evolving, the study of school leadership still presents a challenge to today’s school leaders in the UK. Educational leadership researchers have generated a plethora of vigorous academic reports and research papers over the past few decades. Nevertheless, we are still no nearer to a general consensus as to either defining what leadership means or how leadership can be harnessed and utilised effectively to bring about school improvement. At the time of writing, there are no less than ‘350 definitions of leadership but still no clear or unequivocal understanding of what distinguishes leaders from non leaders’ (Harris & Beatty, 2004).

School effectiveness and improvement remains an issue which has occupied researchers, school leaders and policy makers for nearly three decades and there is a general agreement that schools facing the demands of the 21st century can no longer be indifferent or opt out. The UK educational system is at a stage where school improvement is no longer an aspiration but consistently demanded by Government and policy makers (Harris & Hopkins, 2000). Political policy changes since the early 1990’s have ensured that schools are rigorously forced to conform to this national policy agenda via the stringent Ofsted inspection agenda and also through increasing local accountability via local education authorities or they risk being forced to pay the penalties. Socio-political and policy changes nationally show little sign of slowing down and there is a vehement expectation by Local Education Authorities (LEA’s) for school leaders to deliver dynamic results often within ‘tough’ and unrealistic timescales. However, as yet, we are still no nearer to translating what form effective educational leadership should take from relevant academic studies into everyday practice in UK schools.

A large number of research projects (Harris & Hopkins, 2000) have risen to meet the demand for models of strong effective school leadership and the Blair Government of the mid 1990’s paid for and championed a new National College of School Leadership (N.C.S.L.) to further enhance and develop both senior and middle leadership roles in schools. The National College, working with many leadership experts and partners, still continues to focus on and develop specialised leadership training based on renewal and change in a drive to assist school improvement. As a result, middle leaders have attracted the renewed attention of policy makers and educational researchers particularly those who interested in the theme of school improvement and effectiveness. This research paper will offer practical ways forward for non academic senior leaders in UK schools rather than merely pointing out what has been observed in the field. The findings will be reported in such a way that schools to be able to understand the research findings in a language that they can relate to easily and use them to develop middle leader practice within their own organisations.

At first glance, it soon becomes apparent that school leadership literature generates far more questions than it attempts to answer. Critically, it is worth noting, that the literature predominantly presents a very much ‘one size fits all’ leadership philosophy. Worryingly, there is an expectation that busy senior leadership teams and middle leaders will be able to internalise and adapt this knowledge to fit their own organisation and school culture. This appears to be irrespective of whether they have the appropriate leadership training or academic conceptual knowledge to be able to do so.

The focus has shifted nationally from managing to leading. Increasingly, middle leaders are called ‘middle leaders’ as opposed to ‘middle managers’. This important change in terminology, introduced by the National College for School Leadership, has helped clarify and reinforce that the middle leader role is no longer about managing stock cupboards but more about the leadership of people. More importantly, the leadership term has highlighted, that effective leadership can be possessed by others in the school apart from the Headteacher and the senior leadership team.

Challenges are being faced world-wide as the education system develop from hierarchical and bureaucratic leadership models to those that embrace a greater emphasis on distributing and sharing leadership, decision making responsibilities and working in a collaborative manner. Most educational leadership research has been about Headteachers and their link to school improvement but there has been little about the role middle leaders can play in this. Leask and Terrill (1997) take the stance that middle leaders are pivotal in the drive for school improvement and should, and must, be included in planning.

Despite this input, monitoring and training from the National College of School Leadership, research findings and Ofsted inspection evidence has shown that leadership roles of middle leaders still continue to be variable in practice but although pockets of good practice can be found, as a group, middle leaders are still said to be less effective that they could be (Jones and O’Sullivan, 1997).

Now more than ever, under the current climate, there is a real need in the UK for passionate and effective school leaders who can influence positively their schools’ futures. The introduction of the National Professional Qualification for Headteachers (NPQH) and the production of strategic school improvement action plans for Ofsted show that strategic leadership is critically important in steering schools towards school improvement and effectiveness. If this is to become a reality, then current reliance on rational managerial based leadership is no longer sufficient to lead schools forward into the 21st Century. Senior leadership teams may find themselves having to adapt less hierarchical leadership structures and consider sharing leadership amongst the middle leader skills resource within their schools as opposed to attempting to retain residual control and authority at solely senior leadership level.

This research paper will explore the concept that there is a need for further research into effective school leadership which both balances the highly prescriptive external standards and accountability but which can also develop leadership capacity of middle leaders through a more transformational model of leadership.

Nasima Riazat
Doctoral Researcher - Educatonal Leadership
Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology
The Open University

July 2010


HARRIS, A. & BEATTY, B. (2004) ‘EDITORIAL: Leadership Research and Theory: into Unknown Territory’ in Journal of School Leadership and Management, vol 24, no 3, August 2004.

HARRIS, A. & HOPKINS, D. (2000) ‘Introduction to Special Feature: alternative perspectives on School Improvement’ in Journal of School Leadership and Management, vol 20, no 1, pp9-14, 2000.

JONES, J. & O’SULLIVAN, F. (1997) ‘Energising Middle Management’ in Tomlinson, H., (ed) ‘Managing Continuing Professional Development in Schools’. London: Paul Chapman.

LEASK, M. & TERRELL, I. (1997) ‘Development Planning and School Improvement for Middle Managers’. Kogan Page, London.

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Sunday, 25 July 2010

Grounded Theory - a Potential Methodology for 'Inferential' Research Questions

Grounded theory is a methodology, originally championed by Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss (1967), whereby an abstract theory is strived for from the views/interactions of participants by means of comparing data. In this research, middle leader motivation to impact on whole school decision making was the key topic of the report.

During the initial research study, quantities of primary data was collected on multiple-levels and scrutinised closely to find common codes and categories. Key concepts and codes were used to generate an overarching concept, school culture, which was later linked together with the sub concepts of 'the role of the middle leader', 'balkanization', 'collegiality/capacity building' and 'structural hierarchy', to ascertain and establish theories to answer research questions. Constant comparison of the key concepts and themes within the data maximised and increased the validity of the findings. This analysis will result in an eventual theory which will be said to be ‘grounded’ in the data and be used to provide viable answers to the focus questions posed.

Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss (1967) created the concept of grounded theory which came at a time when qualitative researchers, in their desire to seek explanations for human behaviour, used predominantly positivistic methods. In an attempt to give research findings credibility within a positivistic research paradigm, which ultimately prided itself on virtues of exactitude and objectivity, human behaviour was being reduced to quantifiable variables. There is a current vibe of dissatisfaction with pure quantitative methods within the positivistic research field and positivist researchers are increasingly looking to Glaser and Strauss's (1967) grounded theory methodology, usually incorporated as part of a mixed methods approach, to report on human behaviour (Barker 2009).

Qualitative research claims that realities are created through individual and collective actions, however, grounded theory doesn’t purport to pitch a single reality and open ended interviews will be used to gather data at an early stage in the study. It is important that the generated theory should be ‘grounded in’ and traceable to the data to make it valid (Goulding 1999).

Glaser and Strauss (1967) presented a comprehensible framework for interpreting data that is widely recognised in the educational field. In this research, four main stages will be used; gathering primary interview data, coding it, identifying key emerging concepts and then creating theoretical interpretations based on logically linking up the emerging concepts to generate a theory which will be ‘grounded in the data’. This research study is underpinned by the idea that within the interview data that there might not be one interpretation that is the ‘true’ reality.

The overarching aim of this particular research is to explore the experiences and thoughts of middle leaders and senior leaders in Schools A, B & C with regards to whole school decision making and comparing the evidence in the data with current academic thinking.

Grounded Theory is arguably a suitable method to attempt to explain ingrained human behaviour and experience as this research does not aim to look for a final and single ‘truth’ as in the positivistic vein but to conceptualise what is happening in the field. This method could, perhaps, lend itself well to be a powerful means of arriving at meaningful conclusions, answering the research questions posed and also generate theory which is acceptable within the academic world in addition to being relevant to the participants.

Grounded theory is arguably more superior to other ethnographical methods (Barker 2009) as it succintly presents a way of analysing data whereas other qualitative methods, such as case studies and observation, provide a more general principle of application. It is not open to interpretation in quite the same way that other qualitative methods could be.

Grounded theory fits in well with the posed research questions as it does not necessitate the researcher to maintain an objective distance from the participants, therefore, tacit knowledge can legitimately be linked with the participants thinking to help generate a more local and contextual theory to answer the focus questions. However, there must be an acknowledgement by the researcher that the data is only a ‘snapshot’ of what is happening at that particular time (Mehmetoglu & Altinay 2006). Care must be taken that 'the snapshot' is not interpreted as the ‘truth’ but more of a conceptual insight.

In this research, I have located the research questions but have not proposed any hypothesis as to what the outcomes of the data are expected to be, keeping in line with the emergent properties of grounded theory. A logical prediction can be made as to what the differences will be for middle leaders based on previous studies by leading academics in this area.

The purpose of this study is to compare the link between the sub concepts of collegiality/capacity building, role of middle leaders, hierarchy and balkanization to these participants and their context to generate a local theory they can use to improve practice. It is not to simply point out and highlight what is already known and well documented about these concepts by other academic authors. I have not been directional and predicted a testable hypothesis as to what I expect to find in my findings, e.g. middle leaders have no say in whole school decision making. I have decided to use, what Creswell (2003) terms a nondirectional hypothesis as the findings could go either way. This is the purpose of using grounded theory to see what is happening. As grounded theory operates in a relatively reverse fashion from the traditional positivistic sciences, it has attracted some criticisms.

Further thought needs to be given as to how to overcome any areas of contention of using grounded theory as the main methodology in this research in preparation for the viva and final doctoral thesis.

Nasima Riazat
Doctoral Researcher - Educational Leadership
Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology
The Open University


BARKER, T. (2009) ‘An Introduction to Grounded Theory’, University of Herts.

CRESWELL, J. W. (2003) ‘Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches’. Second Edition. Sage Publications, California USA.

GLASER, B. G. and STRAUSS A., (1967) ‘The Discovery of Grounded Theory’, London, Weidenfield and Nicolson.

GOULDING, C. (1999) ‘Grounded theory: Some Reflections on Paradigm, Procedures and Misconceptions’. Working Paper Series, University of Wolverhampton.

MEHMETOGLU, M., & ALTINAY, L. (2006) ‘Examination of Grounded Theory Analysis with an Application to Hospitality Research’ in International Journal of Hospitality Management, Volume 25, Number 1, pp 12-33.

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