Steven Courtney

Steven Courtney


Personal profile


Steven Courtney is Professor of Sociology of Education Leadership, researching and writing in areas including system leadership, charisma, depoliticisation and education privatisation, particularly in relation to the identities and practices of those constructed as educational leaders. He is currently Research Director in the Manchester Institute of Education (MIE), Co-Editor-in-Chief of the journal Critical Studies in Education, co-convenor of the MIE research and scholarship group, Critical Education Leadership and Policy (CELP) and co-convenor of the BELMAS research group, Critical Education Policy and Leadership Studies (CEPaLS). Prof Courtney is an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Teaching and Learning, University of Manchester. 

Prof Courtney spent the first part of his professional career teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) in Paris before moving into the secondary state sector as a French and Spanish teacher in inner-London comprehensives. Following almost a decade in leadership positions, first as Head of MFL and then Assistant Headteacher, he moved to Manchester to complete an MA in Educational Leadership and School Improvement.

Prof Courtney won ESRC funding for his doctoral work on school leadership in neoliberal times, for which, uniquely, he won best-thesis awards from the American Educational Research Association (Division A), the British Educational Research Association (BERA) and the British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society (BELMAS).

Prof Courtney took up his first academic post in the Manchester Institute of Education (MIE) as Lecturer in Management and Leadership in 2014, becoming Senior Lecturer in 2018 and Professor in 2022. Between 2016–20, he was Programme Director of the MA Educational Leadership; he has since acted as External Examiner on similar programmes at the Universities of Warwick and Exeter, and at UCL. 


Research interests

Professor Steve Courtney's research uses critical approaches to make contributions to the fields of the sociology of educational leadership and policy studies. He carries out research which seeks to explain, illuminate and theorise education policy, and educational leaders' identity and practice in interplay with diverse structural features. These have included the school-inspection regime, heteronormativity, and education privatisation—this latter particularly through the lens of school-type diversification in England. He has researched privatisation in education internationally from a range of perspectives. 

Prizes and awards

2023: Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Teaching and Learning

2023: Excellence in Teaching Award, University of Manchester

2017: British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award-Holder

2016: American Educational Research Association Division A Outstanding Dissertation Award

2016: British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Thesis Award

2016: British Educational Research Association Doctoral Thesis Award

2015: Faculty of Humanities Award for Outstanding Achievement (PGR), University of Manchester

2011: Platt Prize for Outstanding Achievement in a Master’s Degree in the School of Education, University of Manchester

Supervision information

Doctoral research supervisions

Subject to capacity, Prof Courtney supervises suitably qualified doctoral candidates with an interest in the critical sociology of educational leadership and/or education policy. 

Current PhD/EdD supervision


Elaine Campbell: "Constructing teachers: An investigation into the application of primary school leaders’ and education policy constructions of teachers and teaching in England", PhD (FT).
Supervisors: Prof Steven Courtney, Dr Bee Hughes and Dr Edda Sant


Saif Al Washahi: "A critical investigation into the governance system in Omani Higher Education: Academic leaders' perspectives", PhD (FT).
Supervisors: Prof Steven Courtney and Prof Steven Jones

Hannah Ruth McCarthy: "An exploration of the relationship between the T-Level Policy Agenda and professional identities within Further Education", PhD (PT).
Supervisors: Prof Steven Courtney, Dr Miri Firth and Dr Mark Carrigan 


Zeya Li: "Identity construction in senior women leaders in higher education in a period of social change in China", PhD (FT).
Supervisors: Prof Steven Courtney and Dr Alexander Gardner-McTaggart

Weiyuan Wu: "Investigating the lived experiences of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) schoolteachers in mainland China", PhD (FT).
Supervisors: Prof Steven Courtney and Dr Catherine Atkinson


Karen Healey: "Critically investigating the role of parents in the governance of multi academy trusts (MATs) in disadvantaged communities", PhD (FT).
Supervisors: Prof Steven Courtney, Dr Andy Howes and Dr Joanne Doherty

Mark Innes: "The micro-politics of enactment in a multi-academy trust", EdD (PT).
Supervisors: Dr Paul Armstrong and Prof Steven Courtney

Pinyan Lin: "Investigating leadership in formal school clusters: The case of Education Collectives in China", PhD (FT).
Supervisors: Prof Steven Courtney, Dr Paul Armstrong and Dr Amanda McKay


Completed PhD/EdD supervision

Beatrice Maud Halstead (2024). "Teachers’ identities in subordinated schools: A Bourdieuian reconceptualisation of educational ‘disadvantage’", PhD (FT).
Supervisors: Prof Steven Courtney and Dr Bee Hughes 

James Twigg (2021). "Towards an understanding of children’s perception of learning in a primary school", EdD (PT).
Supervisors: Prof Steven Courtney and Prof Helen Gunter 

Bee Hughes (2020). "An investigation into a Chief Executive Officer of a Multi-Academy Trust in England", PhD (FT).
Supervisors: Prof Helen Gunter and Prof Steven Courtney

Omar Kaissi (2019). "Researching corporeality in education: An investigation of knowledge production in gender and education research on boys and masculinities", PhD (FT).
Supervisors: Prof Steven Courtney and Prof Helen Gunter

Stephen M. Rayner (2017). "Academisation: a dynamic process of systemic change in England", EdD (PT).
Supervisors: Prof Helen Gunter and Prof Steven Courtney

My group

CELP (Critical Education Leadership and Policy)

CELP is a Research and Scholarship Group at the Manchester Institute of Education.

We undertake critical education leadership and policy scholarship that explores the power relations produced through education policy in relation to, and as expressed by education leadership, leaders and leading.

We also describe, explain and theorise the significance and implications of these relations for people such as education professionals and children, institutions such as schools and universities, and concepts such as public educationequity, and leadership.

Key questions include:

  • Who benefits from the current arrangements?
  • Whose interests are marginalised?

We explore:

  • The subject and/or outcomes of policy, and its formation and enactment.
  • Its co-constitutive relationship with professionals' "leader" identities and "leaderful" practices.


Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 4 - Quality Education

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, Investigating school leadership at a time of system diversity, competition and flux., The University of Manchester

1 Sept 201117 Dec 2015

Award Date: 17 Dec 2015

Master of Arts, Educational Leadership and School Improvement, The University of Manchester

20 Sept 201031 Aug 2011

Award Date: 16 Nov 2011

PGCE Secondary in French and Spanish, University of Leeds

7 Sept 19984 Jun 1999

Award Date: 12 Jul 1999

Cert. TESOL, Golders Green College School of English

23 Sept 199625 Oct 1996

Award Date: 25 Oct 1996

Bachelor of Arts, French Language and Literature Major with Spanish Minor, University of Leeds

21 Sept 19927 Jun 1996

Award Date: 14 Jun 1996

External positions

External Examiner, University College London (UCL)


Co-Editor-in-Chief, Critical Studies in Education journal

2022 → …

External Examiner, University of Exeter


Elected Council Member, British Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (BELMAS)

18 Sept 202017 Sept 2023

External Examiner, The University of Warwick



  • Educational Leadership
  • Education Policy
  • Sociology of Education
  • Social Theory


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