The strange case of the emergence of distributed leadership in schools in England

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This article reports upon research investigating the rapid rise to prominence of distributed leadership in schools in England. Distributed leadership is located within wider structural reforms of education in England as part of the New Public Management movement in public service delivery and the marked discursive shift to leadership which took place largely during the New Labour governments of 1997 to 2010. Contradictions in the relationship between leadership discourses and this reform process are then examined and the strangeness of the rise of distributed leadership in this context is highlighted. Research from an ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) funded project on distributed leadership in schools with teachers and designated school leaders is then used to further reveal this strangeness in terms of the discursive forms and social practices associated with distributed leadership, including the sometimes idiosyncratic meanings and practices linked to this discursive intervention. It is concluded that although the forms which distributed leadership takes within different school settings are in part shaped by particular contextual features within individual institutions the capacity of officially authorised discourses of distributed leadership to reach into the social practices of schools remains strong. Indeed, the very strangeness of the forms which distributed leadership takes in different institutions is shown to be intimately linked to the strength and intensity of this official discourse as designated school leaders and teachers seek to accommodate this notion into their practices. © 2013 YEAR Educational Review.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)467-487
Number of pages20
JournalEducational Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013


  • distributed leadership
  • education policy
  • leadership
  • new public management


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