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Exploring system leadership in an increasingly academised sector

25 March 2013

Earlier this year we invited a small group of high profile education leaders and policy influencers to join us at the National College in Nottingham to discuss current developments around a self-improving school system and the role of system leaders. We were joined by the senior leaders of a wide range of organisations involved in the academy sector representing both primary and secondary education – from established chains, to new growing sponsor groups, school-led groups to groups led by independent schools.

The education landscape continues to evolve rapidly – the combination of the Government’s reforms of increased autonomy for schools and increased accountability is leading to:

  • a scaling back of the ‘traditional’ middle tier of our education system – the local authority - which means schools are seeking local leadership solutions
  • larger and larger groups of schools as the academy programme continues to expand
  • schools being given a greater stake and responsibility in teacher training and teacher education through initiatives such as teaching schools, Schools Direct and the licensing by the National College of middle and senior leader qualifications together with NPQH
  • increased pressure on governing bodies to provide effective support and challenge, in order to maintain and improve education standards whilst ensuring support for senior leaders in dealing with finance, business and estate issues.

The time therefore felt right to explore a number of fundamental questions around system leadership; particularly in the light of an increasingly academised sector. Is ‘system leader’ a useful concept? What is happening on the ground? Are individuals or organisations system leaders? Are the leaders of academy chains the new middle tier? Should the system be left to its own devices to see what replaces the middle tier or should academy chains seize the initiative? What role should teaching schools play? These are just some of the questions that were considered.

We have prepared this paper to share a number of key themes that emerged from our discussions. By publishing this paper we hope it will stimulate serious debate and encourage leaders in the independent state-funded school sector to seize the initiative and shape system leadership and the role of system leaders into the future.

Exploring system leadership in an increasingly academised sector   

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