Introduction--Leadership in Urban and Challenging Contexts: Perspectives from the National College for School Leadership

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Bath]On: 06 October 2014, At: 20:04Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

    School Leadership &Management: Formerly SchoolOrganisationPublication details, including instructions for authorsand subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cslm20

    Introduction--Leadership inUrban and Challenging Contexts:Perspectives from the NationalCollege for School LeadershipKaren Carter & David JacksonPublished online: 25 Aug 2010.

    To cite this article: Karen Carter & David Jackson (2002) Introduction--Leadership inUrban and Challenging Contexts: Perspectives from the National College for SchoolLeadership, School Leadership & Management: Formerly School Organisation, 22:1, 7-13,DOI: 10.1080/13632430220143015

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13632430220143015

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    http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

  • School Leadership & Management,Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 713, 2002

    IntroductionLeadership inUrban and Challenging Contexts:perspectives from the NationalCollege for School LeadershipKaren CARTER & David JACKSONResearch and School Improvement Group, The National College for School Leadership,University of Nottingham, Jubilee Campus, Wollaton Road, Nottingham NG8 1BB, UK

    This Special Feature takes as its major theme the study of leadership and manage-ment in schools in urban and challenging contexts. The collection of three articleswhich follows has emerged from work undertaken by the National College forSchool Leadership (NCSL).

    Leadership, though conceptually elusive is, quite rightly, in fashion. Managedchange, structures, hierarchies and accountabilities still have their place, but the newlanguage is also about, capacity, creativity, teams, organisational redesign, collabora-tion, exibility, networks and transformationand these are in the domain ofleadership. First and foremost, then, the College (NCSL) is about educationalleadership for school leaders and is committed to generating an applied researchagenda that will arise from and support the practice of leadership in schools [1].

    The National College for School Leadership has been created to sup-port and develop Englands 25 000 headteachers, as well as the thousandsof teachers and others with leadership roles and aspirations in our schools.NCSL will work with them to share and shape best practice, contributingdrive, vision and practical leadership experience to the running of theirschools. (NCSL 2001a: 1)

    The articles which make up this Special Feature focus on work undertaken as partof the NCSL research and development programme Successful Leadership inUrban and Challenging Contexts (SLUCC). This programme is one of ve areasof research and development activity upon which the work of the Colleges Researchand School Improvement Group (RSIG) is currently centred. The other fourprogrammes are: Building Capacity for School Development; New Visions forEarly Headship; Networked Learning Communities; and Learning from BestPractice Worldwide. NCSL exists to make a difference through the development ofleadershipand that difference is about school improvement, strengthening anddeepening leadership, building professional learning communities and improving life

    ISSN 1363-2434 print; 1364-2626 online/02/010007-07 2002 Taylor & Francis LtdDOI: 10.1080/13632430220143015

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  • 8 K. Carter & D. Jackson

    chances for children. Drawing knowledge from the best of what is known, generatingpowerful designs, programmes and projects, studying implementation issues, andevaluating the bene ts and gains of new activitiesis what we have set out to do.Our work is, therefore, underpinned by a commitment, not only to knowledgecreation and sharing (the prime functions of research), but also to an actionorientationto the application and utilisation of knowledge [2].

    The National College has the potential to bring real bene ts to schoolleaders and the wider profession. We are in a unique position to collectevidence to inform policy. We intend to make the College a respectedsource of advice to government and policy-makers on leadership issues. Wewill do this by developing our knowledge base and by engaging in dialoguewith the profession. (NCSL 2001b: 1)

    Our work is, therefore, characterised by two core elds of commitment. The rst isto the involvement of the voice of school leaders, relevance for practice and acommitment to enquiry-based leadership. We start from the premise that what isknown about school leadership in action is out there, being lived out daily by theleaders in our schools. The second, is an orientation towards innovation, action andapplied research; to designing interventions, working with schools, studying whatworks well and whyin the belief that through sharing what is known and applyingbest ideas we can further advance both leadership and school improvement under-standings. In addition to the ve programmes of activity outlined above, the work ofRSIG therefore, also embraces ve generic themes that in part, interlace theseresearch and development programmes, but which are also signi cant elds ofcommitment in their own right. They are as follows:

    Developing enquiry-based leadership Linking research and the practice of leadership Exploring new forms of leadership learning Making strategic connections and network links Designing planned interventions for transformational purposes

    In their seminal work on leadership in urban contexts, Improving the Urban HighSchool (1992) Matthew Miles and Karen Seashore Louis include a section on vision,mission and themes, in which they suggest that the most successful practice wascharacterised by multiple strands of activity, which coalesced around a theme or setof themes through the process of enactment. As the strands interlinked, theygradually formed an image of what the school could becomean emergent andcollaborative vision. The strands were activities that helped to focus activity andcreate energy, often part-intuitively and inductively arrived at. The connections, asthey emerged, they liken to interwoven braids, linking and uniting people throughdoingactive and exploratory. They describe how a vision emerges as the strandsbecome more linked, successful and owned by those involved, at all levels. The braids, orthemes, are vehicles to coordinate disparate but connected strands of activityand theyinevitably shift over time (adapted from, Louis & Miles 1992).

    The concept which Louis and Miles describe, has something in common with

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  • Leadership in Urban and Challenging Contexts 9

    the way in which our ve research and development programmes have beendesigned. Each represents a eld of activity and focus chosen for its potentialrelevance to schools and school leaders, its congruence with the national agenda, orits strategic importance to the College. Each has a number of strands, a multifacetedapproach designed to re ect (and respect) the complexity of the themes chosen.Each has both activities covering a spectrum involving enquiry and research, and thestudy of actionthe process knowledge to move beyond just what to do and towardsthe study of how to doand leading the how to do! If successful, as they evolve, theresults will become complementary, creating connections and synergies, which willpush practice forward.

    The individual areas of work on leadership in urban and challenging contextsreported upon in this Special Feature can therefore, be identi ed as being locatedwithin NCSLs programmed research and development activity and underpinned bythe generic commitments described above. As a consequence, the SLUCC pro-gramme has been constructed as a series of complementary research and interven-tion activities designed to add to available knowledge about what works (and whatis speci c or generic) in leadership and school improvement for schools and contextsoffering the particular challenges posed by urban environments.

    Schools in different sectors and with distinctive characters have speci cleadership needs; the College must be sensitive to the importance ofcontext Our challenge is to promote a discourse which will enable us toknow more about how good leaders make good schools. ( NCSL 2001b:3)

    Understanding the factors operating in successful schools in challenging circum-stances and transferring the lessons is more likely to encourage improvement than anapproach that involves unfair comparison. Intellectual capital when given away doesnot decrease, as does nancial capital, it becomes shared knowledge. Sharedknowledge means mutual learning and gain. As Richard Greenhalgh (Chair ofUnilever UK and Chair of NCSLs Governing Council) points out: In an era whenschools appear to be in competition through the league tables, we need to remind ourselvesthat in many aspects of life, it makes more sense to cooperate and work together(2001:39). The challenges facing schools in urban and challenging contexts meansthat we need to nd practical ways of working together, learning from each other,sharing insight and understanding within and between schools.

    The NCSL Think Tank Report (Hopkins 2001) is clear that school leadershipmust embrace the distinctive and inclusive context of the school. It suggests thatthere is a paradox that currently confronts leadership in schools, that despite widevariations in setting, the educational challenges facing schools and their solutions areremarkably similar. Raising levels of achievement, enhancing the learning repertoiresof students and the creation of powerful learning experiences are educationalchallenges that are independent of social context. Yet schools are in one senseunique. Although there are strategies and policies that work well in many differentsettings, the trick is to build the response from the inside out, not the outside in. It is asif the ingredients may be the same but that the recipe has to be made and mixed anewfor each school (p. 9). Context speci city implies treating schools as individual

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  • 10 K. Carter & D. Jackson

    settings, but in the knowledge that there are increasingly sophisticated tools to assistus in developing every school. School leadership then, needs to be attuned to avariety of contextual dimensions, including catchment area [3].

    A focus upon researching leadership in urban and challenging contexts waschosen as a key part of the Colleges programme of activity because it is a nationalpriority area, because it is a eld in which leadership is experienced at the cuttingedge of practice, because our orientation towards action and application of knowl-edge make it a morally appropriate eld of studyand because learning from leadersin urban and challenging contexts will have universal application. The programmehas seven strands:

    Linking Learning, Behaviour and Leadership: a series of professionally re-searched case studies of 10 highly successful schools. The research studyfocuses on what forms of leadership within a school encourage behaviour thatfacilitates all students learning. Investigations of particular schools arebacked up by a think tank of 10 school leaders.

    Effective Leadership in Schools Facing Challenging Circumstances (reported uponin the rst article of this Special Feature): using the Department forEducation and Skills de nition of schools facing challenging circumstances.The research explores which forms, models and approaches of leadership arein evidence in schools in challenging contexts, and what types of leadershipand improvement strategies are most effective.

    Successful Leadership in Urban and Challenging ContextsLeading EdgeSeminars: these events bring together practitioner and academic perspectiveson successful leadership in challenging contexts. Issues explored to dateinclude: strategies for the improvement of schools in challenging contexts;transferability of practical knowledge; and the range of intelligences andunderstandings upon which leaders draw in determining how and when theychoose to act.

    NCSL Research Associateships: the Research Associates Programme supportsschool leaders in carrying out applied research and enquiry especially de-signed to impact on practice. A number of Research Associates are presentlyfocused on investigating areas within the SLUCC programme (includingTrish Franeys study of leadership in an urban primary school, detailed in thesecond of the articles presented in this Special Feature). NCSLs rstInternational Research Associate, David Ansell, is also contributing a multi-national research perspective on this theme.

    Developing Leadership within the Excellence in Cities (EiC) Programme: thisprogramme is designed to help schools develop their leadership capacity inorder to be able to handle multiple changes and continue to improve. Morethan three quarters of EiC partnerships nationally have been involved in oneor more workshop events focused on this theme. The next stage of the projectwill include developing tailored leadership programmes for individual part-nerships addressing their identi ed needs.

    Investigating Leadership in Urban and Challenging ContextsEAZ Strand Re-

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