Investigating school leadership at a time of system diversity, competition and flux.

Student thesis: Unknown


This dissertation reports on a qualitative study of school leadership with ninesecondary-school headteachers (of maintained schools) or principals (of academy-typeschools) in England. The project maps schooling provision and offers an empiricalaccount of leaders' identities and practices in neoliberal and neoconservative times.Informed by a critical policy-scholarship methodology, documentary data from primaryand secondary sources supplement narrative and semi-structured interviews conductedover 18 months. The findings are reported in five journal articles and one book chapter.The first output maps school types through different lenses: legal status; curriculum;selection; types of academy; and school groupings. The mapping highlights theintersections between the reform agenda and historical diversity. I conceptualise thelandscape holistically through locus of legitimacy and branding, arguing thatdiversification policies facilitate corporatised and religious interests.Second, I show how UTCs and studio schools construct children's abilities as fixed anddifferentiable in terms of predicted economic value. They select, but the responsibility forthis, following Bourdieu, is transferred discursively from the school through branding andhabitus to the "consumers" where it is to be misrecognised as exercising 'school choice'.Third, I typologise three effects on heads' and principals' agency and identities of a fewelite multi-academy trust principals, or courtiers, who have won regional empires throughexpanding their academy chains to occupy the spaces opened up by the dismantling ofLAs. Public-sector and school-leader identities and histories permit the promotion of theiractivities as "school led" and downplays their close relationship with central-state policymakersand private-sector networks.Fourth, I argue that corporatised leadership in schools in England is being promotedthrough new actors and new types of school. Corporatised leadership is characterisedinter alia by the promotion of business interests and the adoption of business-derivedleadership practices and identities. I use Bourdieu's concept of field to explain the impactof business on educational leadership and the dissonance between leaders and led.Fifth, I argue with Gunter that school leaders are removing those who embody orvocalise alternative conceptualisations of educator by eradicating 'inadequate' teaching,and implementing the leader's 'vision'. We deploy Arendtian thinking to show howcurrent models of school leadership enable totalitarian practices to become ordinary.Sixth, I develop Bourdieu's concept of hysteresis through narratives from two heads toargue that rather than simply being an effect of change, hysteresis may be an activelysought outcome whereby the state intervenes to deprivilege welfarist headteachers andprivilege corporatised principals through structurally facilitating their habitus andmandating its dispositions for the field.Collectively, these findings demonstrate how the diversification of provision in Englandand the demands of a performative, marketised regime have ontological and professionalstakes for school leaders and for the led. Symbolic and economic capital is accruing tothe capitalised, facilitated by corporate practices and corporate structural solutionsthrough acquisitions and alliances. Resistance is possible, but a dissident habitus limitsstanding in the field. This hierarchisation is reflected in the relationship between schooltypes and in how children are meant to self-select into that provision. This is a landscapeconstituted of positions, where pupils are expected to know their place and the purposeof education is to facilitate social segregation for economic efficiency.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHelen Gunter (Supervisor) & Melvyn West (Supervisor)


  • principals
  • headteachers
  • Bourdieu
  • neoconservatism
  • school choice
  • school leadership
  • education policy
  • structural reform
  • neoliberalism

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