School Leader Expertise: What is it and how do we develop it?

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Last updated 21 March 2024

Jennifer Barker

Jennifer Barker

Senior Dean, Learning Design

Tom Rees

Tom Rees

Executive Director, Programmes

Although a growing body of research puts the work of school leaders at the heart of school improvement efforts, there is little consensus around the approaches or practices that school leaders should adopt which might lead to effective and ethical improvements to schools and more equitable pupil outcomes. This makes it challenging to design professional development for school leaders. How can effective training and development for a role be designed well, without first having clarity of what a role consists of?

In this paper, we explore the topic of school leadership, attempting to answer the question: ‘school leader expertise, what is it and how do we develop it?’. We make four main arguments:

  1. ‘School leadership’ is a recent and poorly defined concept.
  2. Over the last twenty-five years, approaches to school leadership in England have been dominated by abstract or ‘generic’ leadership theories at the expense of domain-specific expertise.
  3. Expertise in any field is predicated on knowledge and school leadership is no different.
  4. Professional development often fails to have the impact it intends to

Alongside a foreword by Professor Emeritus Viviane Robinson, this paper is a vital resource discussing the relationship between generic and domain-specific approaches to leadership development. You can download the paper for free now.

Download the full paper here.

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  • Foreword by Viviane Robinson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Auckland.
  • Part 1: What is school leadership?
  • Part 2: Generic and domain-specific perspectives of school leadership.
  • Part 3: Persistent problems, expertise and leadership knowledge.
  • Part 4: Designing effective professional development.
  • Summary and ‘what next?’.

Read more

Download the School Leader Expertise paper for free.

Download now