Do school leaders' values matter? Decision making in complex times

Tuesday 21 November 2023 (16:30-18:00)
Toby Greany

We are delighted to welcome Professor Toby Greany to lead on our next ELA seminar.

The seminar will be chaired by Ava Sturridge-Packer CBE, former primary head in Birmingham and currently DfE and Birmingham Education Partnership adviser.

Participants will be able to contribute and ask questions of the speakers and the chair.

School leaders are expected to act with integrity and moral purpose. In the UK these expectations are captured in the Nolan principles and headteacher standards in each nation. Researchers observe that leaders’ values are important, but values are always contested: one headteacher’s ‘moral purpose’ is not the same as another’s. This becomes most apparent when espoused values are enacted in practice.

Recent developments in England have laid bare the importance of values and the consequences when these are not shared and enacted; for example, where some schools have been shown to exclude (‘off-roll’) students who are seen as more challenging to teach. Researchers have explored these issues from different angles. One approach has been to focus on individual leaders, seeking to understand how their values shape practice in the context of externally driven change. Other work highlights that individual values are only part of the story: values are embedded within professional norms and organisational cultures, while policy and governance frameworks commonly serve to structure and constrain individual agency.

This presentation draws on examples from recent research led by the author to examine the role of values in leadership decision making and practice. It argues that contemporary policy in England encourages leaders to engage in ‘pragmatic compliance’, meaning that they must always protect the school from external change even while seeking to hold true to a core set of professional values. However, it also presents examples which illustrate how leaders’ values can be more agentic. It concludes by discussing these issues, drawing out four implications for policy, practice and research: first, values must be collectively negotiated and practiced by groups of leaders across different schools to have legitimacy; second, such collective negotiations must include a local – place-based – dimension; third, embedding shared values has implications for leadership development; and fourth, meaningful change requires a collective recognition that schools play an important institutional role that goes beyond narrowly defined academic outcomes.    

About the speaker

Toby is Professor of Education at the University of Nottingham. His research is focused on how policy and practice interact to shape educational opportunities and outcomes, in particular across local systems and through networks, and the nature and role of leadership in these processes. His research includes studies funded by the Association of Education Committees, Economic and Social Research Council, Education Endowment Foundation, Nuffield Foundation, Wellcome Trust and UK Department for Education. He currently chairs the Greater Manchester Priority Area Partnership Board on behalf of the UK Department for Education. His most recent book – Leading Educational Networks: Theory, Policy and Practice (Bloomsbury, 2022) – was co-authored with Dr Annelies Kamp, University of Canterbury, Aotearoa New Zealand. He has advised the OECD, EU and ministries in several countries on issues relating to school leadership and educational system reform.