Exploring educational leadership
Exploring educational leadership

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Exploring educational leadership

7 Educational organisations

Many schools are based on historic organisational structures that shape certain aspects of their leadership. Strongly hierarchical structures tend to be very bureaucratic, with clearly articulated leadership and management layers, and clearly delineated responsibilities at each layer (Bush, 2002). Authority is derived from the power associated with particular positions within these hierarchies, and in most such organisations, tasks and policies are passed down through the layers for implementation. This notion of hierarchical power is associated with Max Weber, the founder of organisational sociology. Weber’s theories offer an important way of understanding how power and authority are differentiated and exercised within organisations, and why organisations are typically structured in the way that they are.

Some, particularly smaller or more informal organisations, for example an out-of-school club, may have looser organisational or group arrangements and an approach known as ‘collegiality’, where all of the team are involved in decision-making (Bush, 2002). Where there is a lot of consensual decision-making, the processes can take a long time, but there is said to be a stronger sense of ownership of the decisions among the team. Leadership here derives authority from shared agreements on goals and the way in which individuals work towards a common goal, perhaps akin to the power of influence discussed earlier, or power embedded in culture and tradition, as discussed by Fairbairn-Dunlop (2014).

In practice, few organisations have distinct structures, and different leadership approaches may be practised in different parts of the same organisation. Power can work through both hierarchical authority and through discourses and knowledge-sharing between individuals. Leaders may draw their power from the authority that is linked to their place in an organisational hierarchy and/or may draw on the power associated with their expert knowledge. Those who are not in designated leadership roles may exert influence on others through the power of persuasion and interpersonal relationships, by proposing new ideas for practice or alternative ways of working.

Therefore, the institutional features of organisations and the relationships between the people within them need close attention when we are discussing leadership, as the environment of a setting may or may not facilitate particular types of learning or leadership. Billett (2006) argues that the workplace is made up of particular ‘social practices that afford experiences to participate and learn’ (p. 45). ‘Affordances’ (the support and opportunities for learning) are shaped by the way that organisations reproduce themselves, power relations within and between organisations, and the motivations and intentions of individual learners. For example, the expanding size of many educational organisations, the increase in decisions and speed of decision-making required has led to a growth in what are termed ‘delegated leadership’ and ‘distributed leadership’. In short, delegated leadership is where the leadership of tasks is given to people who would not normally have that as part of their role, requiring a top-down analysis of what requires doing. Distributed leadership is where people are encouraged to show leadership for tasks that they perceive as needing attention, as a result of bottom-up analysis (Woods et al., 2004).

Activity 3

Timing: Allow approximately 1 hour

The video below introduces the North Bedfordshire Federation of Schools case study, which illustrates many of the issues that were introduced above: agency, leadership, authority and organisational structures.

Watch the video, and familiarise yourself with the case study. Notice where the issues of leadership agency, professional development and change are discussed.

Note: ‘Ofsted’ in this video refers to the UK government agency ‘Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills’.

Download this video clip.Video player: ee811_2015j_vid007-320x176_edited.mp4
Skip transcript


The middle school heads, in particular, had to spend a great deal of effort explaining how the Federation would work in practice.
Janine Waring (Head teacher, Harrold Priory Middle School):
‘What does it look like, feel like? What’s it going to be like on a day-to-day basis? What difference is it going to make to me as a teacher?’ were the kinds of questions that staff were asking. So for them it was about helping them to see that there would be benefits for them as well in terms of maybe workload, quicker drivers for change, quicker impacts for success, a lot more collaboration and consistency between the Key Stage 3 curriculum and moving on to Year 9.
The head teachers also have to learn to collaborate with senior staff from the different schools in weekly meetings to harmonise key issues such as the curriculum, assessment systems, recruitment and finance. It’s not all been plain sailing.
John Clemence:
It’s probably been the favourite phrase in the Federation, when you’re having these conversations between the three of us: ‘Oh, we do that already’. And you’re thinking, ‘No you don’t, you know’. Or the other way round: ‘There’s a problem here’, … ‘Well there wasn’t a problem when they were with us’. You know, so you’ve got to, you’ve got to go past that. That’s what a mature group of people does.
Mike Lavelle:
There is that surrendering that, you know, I want to get my own way. But also, I’m now in a position where I’m working alongside head teachers, meeting weekly and having a challenge presented every week. It’s a good professional place to be.
John Clemence:
Because the way we’ve done it and we have communicated and we have in effect consulted and we have ...
During the setting up of the Federation, the heads also had to keep the local authority on side.
Chris Hilliard:
There is a duty to consult and schools therefore do consult the local authority to see whether we have particular views on it. But certainly in the case of this Federation, you know, [there is] clear commitment to raising standards and aspirations as far as the youngsters are concerned, keenness for the schools to work together, also to work with the local authority. There are obviously potential advantages if one were to look at it from the perspective of – which we should do – the perspective of the individual youngsters. What it means is that we’ve got curriculum continuity right the way across the three middle schools: and therefore, you’ve got that curriculum continuity being reflective, hopefully, in terms of achievement and attainment. And therefore, you’ve got an even stronger base point for when those youngsters are going through to Sharnbrook Upper School.
Despite the local authority’s support for the idea of the Federation, they were at the same time planning their own reorganisation. They wanted to scrap all their middle schools and move to a two-tier system. It threatened to undermine Sharnbrook’s Federation plans.
John Clemence:
We went out to consultation for Federation. I think it was about a month before the local authority went out to consultation to the population of Bedford and Bedford Borough to say not only are we going to reorganise the system, but we’re going to close your school, your school, your school. All the middle schools would be closed including our three feeder schools. And we had gone out to consultation on Federation. So one, we had to overcome the confusion that caused but also we were selling the message at the time which was about using the Federation to whatever system we have to make it work even more effectively.
When, in September 2009, the Federation finally got the go ahead, it was not quite as hoped. In the confusion over reorganisation, Margaret Beaufort decided not to join, believing instead that its interests would be better served by trying to federate with its own feeder primaries. John Clemence was disappointed.
John Clemence:
Now they made a decision on the basis that they felt that because there was by that point they had been signalled a closure notice on the school, that the local authority had implemented on the basis of the reorganisation, they, and that meant not only were they closed as a school, they would disappear, in effect. Because their building would be taken over by a primary school, it’s not that they would become primary, they were gone. So they felt their future at that point was more linked to setting up some kind of Primary Federation with its feeder schools. And they wanted to spend their energies on that. That was what we were told. So, ‘No’ to the Secondary Federation. In the meantime, the Primary Federation didn’t get off the ground at all because they weren’t interested, the other schools. So they went into a kind of a vacuum really.
Meanwhile with the Federation of three schools up and running, Margaret Beaufort began to struggle in the 2009–10 academic year and received a poor Ofsted report.
Hugh Carr-Archer:
They went into, you know, category 3 out of 4, satisfactory. And that was a real knock to their pride. I won’t pull any punches. When Margaret Beaufort School got a satisfactory Ofsted, it had three lower schools nearby that fed it that had got outstanding Ofsted. It had Lincroft Middle that had got three consecutive outstanding Ofsteds and it had Sharnbrook Upper with four consecutive outstanding Ofsteds. And they asked, even though they were in the same Trust, they asked none of us for any advice or any help and they created their own action plan. Now some might call it brave; some might call it stupid. So they have had this sort of shock. They thought they could do it themselves. The head teacher left for another job. The governing body decided, in my opinion rightly, that they couldn’t do it themselves.
By June 2010, the new coalition government’s cuts in public spending led to the shelving of Bedford’s reorganisation plans due to projected costs of £340 million plus, which they could no longer afford. Now, finally, Margaret Beaufort joined the Federation.
Hugh Carr-Archer:
So let me start with the new governors from Margaret Beaufort Middle School. I want to welcome new governors now. Margaret Beaufort Middle School joining the Federation: you know, we sort of held the ring for you for a year and, and now you’re here, we’re delighted.
With Margaret Beaufort on board, the Federation was ready to harmonise the middle schools feeding into Sharnbrook. But a key issue for the heads will be to establish a Federation identity whilst preserving the individuality of the four schools. They will also need to find answers to the complaints that the leadership is too top-down.
End transcript
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