Scoping Institutional Contexts for Distributed Leadership in England and Finland

Principal Investigator: Meng Tian, Lecturer/Assistant Professor, University of Bath, UK
Co-Investigators: Mika Risku, Head of the Institute of Educational Leadership, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

Policymakers in England and Finland have been endorsing distributed leadership as a solution to reducing principals’ workload, enhancing school effectiveness and promoting a democratic culture in schools. According to Tian, Risku, and Collin’s (2016) model, distributed leadership provides a new lens to re-examine the resource and agency distributions in an education system. To date, most studies have been investigating distributed leadership in mainstream public schools under the governance of local educational authorities. Very few studies scrutinise distributed leadership in alternative forms of schooling. In this scoping study, we aim to fill the gap by examining and comparing how distributed leadership is conceptualised and communicated in policy documents regarding the governance of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) in England and independent schools in Finland. The following research questions will direct the investigation:

  • How is distributed leadership conceptualised and legitimised in educational policies in England and Finland?
  • Which institutional factors support or constrain the resources and agency distribution in English Academies and Finnish public schools?
  • What are the power relations between the institutional and organisational levels?

The study will employ critical policy analysis to investigate the conceptions of distributed leadership addressed in policy documents in England and Finland. From the institutional perspective, an analytical framework will be devised to analyse the regulative, normative and cognitive aspects of the policies that have implications for and are relevant to distributed leadership.

In England, since the early 2000s, academies have been introduced by the Labour government as an alternative form of state-funded schools that are independent from local education authorities’ governance. A decade later, the Conservative government issued the Academy Act 2010 to enable failing state schools to be converted to academies. One model for establishing inter-school networks is the MATs. The Department for Education claims MATs to be “the only structures which formally bring together leadership, autonomy, funding and accountability across a group of academies in an enduring way.” The idea of using stronger schools to support and improve the weaker ones within the same MAT underpins this policy. According to the British Educational Suppliers Association (2019), England has altogether 1170 MATs in 2019. The sizes of the MATs vary from a minimum of two to a maximum of 66 schools.

Different from the quick expansion of MATs in England, Finland has a relatively small number of independent schools. According to Statistics Finland (2019), there were 2682 primary and secondary education schools providing general education for 638,700 students in Finland in 2018. Of these, only 80 were independent schools. Most of these are located in the capital, Helsinki, where one third of the schools are independent. In Finland, a registered community or foundation can apply for the license to provide general education from the Government. The evaluation for the license takes into consideration the local need. As a result, most independent schools provide general pedagogy acting as local schools with agreements with local authorities. Exceptions mainly consist of Christian schools, language schools, schools with special pedagogical approaches (e.g. Steiner schools) and upper secondary schools for adults.

The findings of this scoping study will present a comprehensive picture of how distributed leadership is conceptualised and legitimised in educational policies in England and Finland. Institutional factors that support or constrain the resources and agency distribution will be identified. The findings will be used for international comparison, policy benchmarking and further empirical research.

If you would like to find out more about our project and share ideas, please do feel free to contact us.

Dr Meng Tian

Principal Investigator

Email: ku.ca1670243644.htab1670243644@71021670243644tm1670243644

Tel: +447947981281

Cross-cultural reflexivity and gender-sensitive teacher training in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC)

Principal Investigator:
Dr. Yuwei Xu, UCL Institute of Education, London, UK

Prof. Markus Andrä, FH Dresden, University of Applied Sciences, Dresden, Germany
Dr. Christian Eidevald, University of Gothenburg & City of Gothenburg’s Preschools, Gothenburg, Sweden

Research Assistant:
Yulin Zhang, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, US & Avenues World School, Shenzhen, China

Inspired by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and particularly by Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4 (‘Ensure inclusive and quality education for all’) & 5 (‘Achieve gender equality’), this project embraces and responds to the significance of pedagogies and practices that promote gender diversity and equality in early childhood education and care (ECEC). The project ultimately aims to provide children in selected countries with enriched experiences in their early life and support them to achieve their full potential.

In this study, we appeal to the recruitment and training of practitioners who are/can be sensitive to issues of gender and can implement a gender-sensitive pedagogy. Practitioners also need to reflect on their own gendered subjectivities that instruct their pedagogies and practices in working with young children. To promote gender-sensitive and -reflexive practices among practitioners, we propose a cross-cultural approach to ECEC pedagogy and gender-sensitive teacher training. There exist many taken-for-granted and unchallenged gender practices in ECEC settings across, hence cross-cultural reflexivity offers potential critical opportunities for local practices to be considered and ‘judged’ in cross-cultural and comparative contexts; meanwhile taking into account both local and international policies and discourses. The cross-cultural approach to ECEC pedagogy we propose in this project will: 1) Raise awareness of how dominant gender discourses shape ECEC values and practices in local cultures; 2) Inform about gender-sensitive practices and the possible consequences, as alternative to gender-blind practices; 3) Encourage rethinking of pedagogical values and the implications for wider social justice and equity; and 4) Facilitate mutual understanding of cultural differences and similarities among nations and prepare children as global citizens. As gender binary and gender hegemony are still pervasive in shaping practitioners’ gender subjectivities internationally, challenging hegemonic gender discourses globally would benefit from cross-cultural collaborations and joint efforts.

The purpose of this project is to engage practitioners from four different countries (China, UK, Germany, and Sweden) in a continuing professional development (CPD) training module on gender-sensitive pedagogies and practices in early childhood education and care (ECEC). To achieve this, we will organize activities in three stages:

  • Stage 1: A one-day workshop will be organized in each country to facilitate discussions around gender and ECEC among practitioners/kindergarten teachers. The workshop will be a combination of presentations from the project team, and practitioner-led focus group discussions on two questions: Why gender matters in ECEC? & Does the gender of a practitioner matter?.
  • Stage 2: A reflective journal will be kept by participant practitioners/teachers for one month. The reflective journal will focus on participants’ experiences of gender in their daily practices. They will note down critical moments that promote gender-sensitive practices and pedagogies, challenges and strategies they come across during those moments, and training supports needed for further enhancing gender-sensitive ECEC. The reflective journal will be used to inform content for an online training module.
  • Stage 3: An online CPD training module and learning community will be developed. The online learning community will contribute to establishing an international network of practitioners/teachers, enabling them to engage in cross-cultural discussions and activities to promote gender-sensitive ECEC.

If you would like to hear more about our project and engage in our network, please feel free to get in touch with us.

Dr Yuwei Xu
Principal Investigator

Email: ku.ca1670243644.lcu@1670243644ux.ie1670243644wuy1670243644

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7331 5239


Assessing the role of boom and bust economies on professional education: a British-Australian comparison

Principal Investigator: Dr Alice Butler-Warke

Co-Investigators: Dr Mark Liddiard

This project examines how resource-based economies that experience cycles of ‘boom and bust’ impact on education in terms of recruitment, retention and experience. Cycles of ‘boom and bust’ are a feature of resource-based economies and derive from natural resource availability and the economic viability of resource extraction. Our project is based on an understanding of boom and bust cycles inherent in natural resource extraction, but specifically considers the social, urban and educational impacts of these periods of expansion and contraction. Anecdotal evidence appears to suggest that social work recruitment and retention is especially vulnerable to the vagaries of such economic expansion and contraction. Both universities included in this study have prominent undergraduate social work programmes and we are keen to understand how social work student recruitment, retention, experience and attainment are impacted by perceptions of and actual bust periods.  We further elected to consider the impact on social work students as their education and training will prepare them for frontline interaction with the direct effects of economic decline and contraction in a myriad of settings. The study aims to:

  1. Critically interrogate why students have made the decision to study for a professional degree (recruitment).
  2. Examine what factors play into students deciding whether or not to continue with their course of study in a time of boom or a time of bust (retention).
  3. Investigate how the student experience is connected to wider social, political and economic contexts (experience).

The seedcorn funds from BAICE are proving invaluable as Dr Mark Liddiard (Curtin University) and I delve into a collaborative project that we hope to grow over the coming years.  I am based at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland, a city famed for its oil and gas extraction while Curtin University is located in Perth, Western Australia, a region known for its iron ore and mineral extraction. Both cities and their respective regions have experienced a recent decline in the natural resource sector, which in turn has cascaded into many other aspects of their economies.

We are conducting focus groups with students to understand how their decision to enrol or unenrol into a social work degree programme may have been influenced by the broader dynamics of the local economy and resultant social effects. We are also interviewing social work lecturers to similarly explore their perspective, as well as understand how they might adapt social work programmes within the confines of the nationally-regulated curriculum to meet the demands of local and national economic contraction.  As two cities known for their ‘remoteness’ and isolation, we shall also consider the urban experience of students in these cities though photographic elicitation methods to build an understanding of student urban experience in times of economic contraction.


The BAICE seedcorn funds will allow us to conduct thorough preliminary research and gather rich empirical data that we anticipate informing further research.  Already, we are discussing with colleagues in Finland and Japan the possibilities of further comparative work.  We would like to extend our thanks to BAICE for their generous funding and for the opportunity to explore this under-researched but critically important area, which is likely to have broader implications for educational delivery in the context of economic uncertainty.

If you have further questions about our project and would like to share ideas, please do feel free to get in touch with us.

Dr Alice Butler-Warke

Email: ku.ca1670243644.ugr@16702436442relt1670243644ub.a1670243644

Tel: 01224 263376