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New perspectives on Middle Leadership in schools in England – persistent tensions and emerging possibilities

Ainsworth, Stephanie, da Costa, Marta, Davies, Caroline and Hammersley-Fletcher, Linda (2022) New perspectives on Middle Leadership in schools in England – persistent tensions and emerging possibilities. Educational Management, Administration and Leadership. ISSN 1741-1432

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Abstract

To afford school middle leaders meaningful opportunities to initiate change, we must provide them with the space and flexibility to engage with agentic and creative responses to policy and practice. Whilst we argue that the tensions identified in Bennett’s seminal reviews persist, there may, nonetheless, be opportunities for school middle leaders to creatively influence educational agendas. Through engaging in a critical interpretative synthesis of school middle leadership literature, we consider how the subjectivities of such leaders are discursively constructed. We argue that a culture of performativity has diminished opportunities for middle leaders in English schools to develop a strong sense of agency, educational ideology and authentic professional responsibility. However, a current governmental focus on subject knowledge may have opened spaces for a collegial agency, despite the prevailing neo-conservative policy discourse. We thus identify, the potential for movement beyond a discursive position to one where school middle leaders take greater responsibility for developing practice to align more closely with their educational values. Utilising a dialogic theoretical perspective we examine how middle leadership in English schools is currently practiced and mediated in relation to the changing political landscape, and suggest that seemingly contradictory positions provide a fruitful site for new research.

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