A brief critical evaluation of the impact of educational leadership

Much has been written about leadership over the past 50 years and the theoretical approaches for leadership have now become entrenched in the discourse used about education within this country. Perspectives on leadership, though much discussed appear to form a general consensus in that the quality of leadership of an organization has an impact upon its efficiency in achieving its desired goals and thus that it is still a crucial goal for any organization to ensure that talented, knowledgeable people are in positions of prominence (Harvey, Hill and Landis 2014)

In a field such as Education, which on first glimpse would appear to be one that is obviously values driven, the manner with which the ‘Values’ or moral purpose of a leader have grown in more explicit prominence when identifying leaders to the extent that values could now be seen as being of equal importance to the talent and knowledge that an individual has.


Stewart (2006) poses the question of what or who is an educational leader asking whether they are celebrity or altruistic and also whether leadership in education can function in a traditional sense whereby it is earned through demonstrative merit. Stewart posits that leadership in education is rather based around those individuals who are now in a position to answer philosophical questions about the purpose of an individual through group identity, a challenge that is clearly daunting when that identity is left mutable to the whim of government change and policy reform. This challenge deepened further when faced with the fact that in times of economic or political upheaval ‘School systems have become a source of blame’ (p3)


In fact Copeland (2014) goes further and states that it is because of political and economic upheaval that an increased emphasis was places on the ethics and morality of leaders as a counterpoint to the charismatic leader. ‘It became clear that in order to restore hope, confidence, integrity and honor to leaders [.] entities needed to look beyond the persuasive lure of a charismatic, ostensibly transformational leader and ensure that leaders also possessed a strong set of values morals and ethics.’ (p106) It is unsurprising that this would transmit to the educational field whereby leaders are placed in a position where they are taking responsibility for ensuring the security of a countries future economy- and of course in doing so playing such a pivotal role in educating people’s children.  In this regard Busch and Wennes (2012) argue that values have always ‘enjoyed’ a central place in the manner with which schools and other public sector organisations are run as values such as ‘accountability to society at large’ (p201) are typical. They also discuss the impact of reform on that particular value. Within the UK Education system the academies program and through it the increased autonomy that schools have with regards the manner with which their finances are spent has meant that this accountability is now further scrutinized. Specific school examples could be seen with schools being given the freedom to spend specific Pupil Premium funding as they see fit, but challenged externally and rigorously that this freedom has been utilized to the betterment of these students achieving improved academic outcomes. In that regard Busch and Wennes present an interesting conception of the notion of values in that whilst they are seen as a ‘mental construct’ and that they can be both ‘explicit and implicit in nature’ values must be ‘available for verbalization – either by the actor subscribing to the value, or by the person observing the actor’s behaviour.’ (p202). Therefore the values of a leader – and through them an organization can be seen as desirable and if found to be absent could be tied to a perception of that leader and organization being ineffective or inadequate. The reference to the spend of Pupil Premium funding is therefore an example of a value that is looked for, namely that schools have a focus on students who are from lower income backgrounds achieving comparably to their more affluent peers, schools not demonstrating this focus through their demonstrable values indicates a lack of alignment with policy and would thus cause serious questions to be asked about the leadership and the organization as a whole.

This is what Busch and Wennes refer to as a value that is ‘rooted in society (p203) and they place such values as these within a hierarchy of importance where societal values through their consensually accepted and ingrained within senses of duty are adhered to as a matter of course and due to that social and external accountability pressure. Below that are values based upon rational reasoning within which they include aspects seen with clear applicability to the educational sector such as professional condut and competence. Below this are the values which are represented through individual preference and choice. An example of these three measures in eduation would therefore be at the highest level, a belief that all young people should be entitled to a free education as a social responsibility, in the mid-level that all students should be entitled to a curriculum that includes specific subjects based on a rational reasoning that they will provide the means by which the student can benefit most from their educational entitlement and then at the lowest level that students should address teachers as Sir or Madam and wear a school uniform as a preference on how that school should function on a day to day basis. Where this perceived hierarchy of values have a misalignment would cause an organization to falter. Specific external measures can increase what would be seen as a middle-tier value, such as curriculum choice, becoming a value that has a greater cultural prominence but that was not aligned to the reasoning of a school leader. An example of this is evident in a the new Progress 8 accountablility measure which measure student performance against particular curriculum choices. If a student were not entered with these curriculum choices then the school would perform badly against this particular measures and thus the labeling of a school as inadequate or failing. Busch and Wennes refer to this as a ‘disconnect from external demands’ as a result of ‘organisational narcicissm’ (p204) and thus present that the values of public organisations such as schools will be impacted upon by changes in organizational culture or identify but can remain rooted in a core moral purpose such as the belief in the entitlement of all children to a high quality free education.







Aslarnargun, E (2012) Principals’ Values in School Administration, Educational Sciences: Theory and Practise, Spring 2012


Banks, J and Mhunpiew, N (2012) Authentic Leadership, Social Cognitive Theory and Character Education: The Transforming of Theories Into Practices US-China Education Review B 12 pp1002-1006


Beck, V (2014) The effects of the implementation of value-based management International Journal of Economic Sciences and Applied Research 7 (2) pp153-165


Busch T and Wenes G (2012) Changing Values in the modern public sector: the need for value-based leadership The International Journal of Leadership in Public Services Vol 8 No 4 2012 pp201-215


Copeland, M (2014) The Emerging Significance of Values Based Leadership: A Literature Review International Journal of Leadership Studies 8.2 pp105-135


Gabbard, D (2012) Educational Leadership or Followership? Democracy & Education, Vol 21, No. 1


Gutmore, D and Kieres, K (2014) A Study of the Value Added by Transformational Leadership Practices to Teachers’ Job Satisfaction and Organizational Commitment NCPEA Educational Leadership Review of Dotoral Research, Vol 1 No 1- March 2014


Harvey, M, Hill, D and Landis E (2014) A Synthesis of Leadership Theories and Styles Journal of Management Policy and Practice vol 15(2) 2014


Hilbe, C, Milska, C, Mayer, S (2014) Reconciling Different Views on Responsible Leadership: A Rationality-Based Approach Journal of Business Ethics 2014 125, pp349-360


Steward, J (2006) Transformational Leadership: An Evolving Concept Examined through the Works of Burns, Bass, Avolio and Leithwood Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, Issue No. 54 June 2006


Warwas, J (2014) Principals’ leadership behaviour: values based, contingent or both? Journal of Educational Administration, Vol 53, No. 3 2015, pp 310-334


Author: @petenealon

Teacher who is mainly writing about education. Reflections on my own Professional Learning and the learning taking place where I work

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