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IOE at 120: a leader of leaders in a time of recognition and pressure, 2002-12

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 29 November 2022

School leadership took on new importance

This blog is the 11th in a series of 12 exploring each decade in IOE’s history in the context of the education and society of the times. Find out more about our 120th anniversary celebrations on our website, and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn to keep up with everything that’s happening. 

David Godfrey. 

IOE’s influence grew during the first decade of the twenty-first century, under the directorship of Professor Geoff Whitty (2000-10). The Institute was well-placed to benefit from the ruling New Labour government’s (1997-2010) interest in education. Ministers supported the need for educational research to inform policy and practice and relationships with policy-makers were actively cultivated. While relations with the Coalition Government (2010-15) were less smooth, the Institute sustained good levels of funding and activity.

IOE also expanded on the world stage during this period, as the post-Cold War impetus for globalisation and collaboration took hold. The Institute fared well in newly-developed national and international league tables. ‘In both research and teaching, the Institute gained prestige from these metrics and established many new research centres that responded to the renewed policy interest in education,’ note Aldrich and Woodin in their recent historical analysis of IOE.

The 2002-2012 leadership landscape

The early 2000s was a decade in which the importance of educational leadership came to the fore in the UK and internationally. In a 2008 meta-analysis of 27 studies on the link between leadership and student outcomes, Viviane Robinson, currently a Visiting Professor in the UCL Centre for Educational Leadership (CEL), and colleagues demonstrated the important role that school leaders make when they ‘lead learning’ in schools. Specifically, largest effect sizes were shown when leaders promoted and participated in teacher learning and development. This principle of leading learning has played a key role in UCL Centre for Educational Leadership (CEL) and its earlier iterations since its birth in 1997.

A consistent trend in this decade, as described by Professor Ron Glatter, was the ‘rise and rise’ of school accountability and autonomy in England. This can be traced back to the 1988 Education Reform Act, which gave schools more power over allocating resources but also introduced a prescribed national curriculum. The Office for Standards in Education’s (Ofsted’s), major role at system and policy level in the 2000s, informing government decisions, and influencing the perceived ‘bottom line’ for school leaders – i.e., to achieve a ‘respectable’ inspection grade ­– continues today. The New Labour government and then the Coalition government introduced further measures to increase school autonomy, notably with the rapid expansion of the Academies model from 2010.

This decade was also dominated by ideas about ‘the self-improving school system’. In a think piece series, David Hargreaves suggested three building blocks for school improvement: (1) Clusters of schools (structure); (2) Local solutions and co-construction (culture); and (3) Systems leadership (key people). Elements of these could be seen in the much vaunted ‘London Challenge’ initiative from 2002 to 2011, credited with dramatically raising the performance of schools in London. The Centre worked closely at the time with Professor Tim Brighouse, Schools Commissioner for London, who led The London Challenge, with Professor Peter Earley evaluating the London Leadership Strategy.

In 2010, the Coalition Government launched its White Paper, ‘The Importance of Teaching’. The message became one of ‘freeing-up’ schools to improve themselves. As Toby Greany observed, this meant many non-governmental organisations were closed or stripped back; local authorities lost the bulk of their resources and capacity as thousands of schools became academies; schools increasingly drove the content and design of initial teacher education; and Teaching Schools began to play a lead role in defining and disseminating effective practice through their research and development (R&D) function and provision for continuing professional development (CPD).

Within this milieu, IOE’s London Centre for Leadership in Learning (now UCL CEL), continued to conduct evaluations, research and teaching programmes linked with these initiatives, helping to refine them and to bring about positive changes to the education sector through enhancing leadership at all levels. For example, the Centre led two national Teaching Schools R&D projects, one drawing on a literature review carried out by Professor Louise Stoll and colleagues.

Significantly, in November 2000 the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) was founded, and the legal requirement for prospective headteachers to take the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) qualification came into place in April 2004 (mandatory in English and Welsh schools until February 2012). IOE’s leadership centre was one of the key providers of the NPQ programmes, being informally referred to as ‘the London outpost’ of the NCSL, as noted by Aldrich and Woodin.

During the 2002-2012 decade, these and other substantial government reforms influenced the work of IOE’s leadership centre, whose overall strategy has been to work with the government and to positively influence the enactment of policy. In doing so, the centre has evolved an approach to knowledge exchange, involving working closely with practitioners and enhancing programmes through the integration of academic research.

UCL Centre for Educational leadership today

Today, UCL Centre for Educational Leadership (CEL) is UK’s largest centre for research, teaching, development, and innovation in educational leadership. On behalf of the IOE, UCL CEL is also the only university-based national provider for the Early Career Framework (ECF) and National Professional Qualification (NPQ) programmes. In partnership with 25 Teaching School Hubs and several local authority-led delivery partners across England, UCL CEL provides research-informed and practice-enriched professional learning and development for more than 10,000 early career teachers, their mentors and school leaders each year.

Professor Qing Gu, the current Director, led the renaming of CEL in September 2020, embracing its position in a global university and foregrounding the commitment to generating cutting-edge evidence and theory which informs our teaching, consultancy and knowledge exchange work with schools and other educational settings in London, the United Kingdom and beyond.

Significantly, Professor Gu oversaw the Centre’s successful bids to design and deliver the ECF and the reformed NPQs, including for subject leaders, headteachers and executive leaders. At the same time, the Centre’s teaching and research profiles have continued to grow at scale. These include the alignment and expansion of Master’s programmes, publication of two Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) funded evaluations on the impact of Research Schools, especially those in the DfE funded Opportunity Areas, in promoting evidence-informed teaching and learning in schools, and the award of two large ESRC and Nuffield Foundation research projects.

As we look forward to CEL’s annual conference in January 2023, educational leadership continues to be pivotal to the work of the IOE, and the philosophy of working with and for the profession remains the Centre’s mission.


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