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