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IOE Blog


Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Generation X men and women: leading a school near you

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 18 June 2012

Karen Edge
Global Cities are diverse, vibrant hubs of innovation. They create new norms. This idea of a roster of powerful cities influencing global culture, economics, politics and infrastructure has inspired an annual ranking of Global Cities This ranking doesn’t include education – but my research team and I think a list of Global Educational Cities has great potential.
Historically, international education policy and practice have been influenced by a just handful of cities. So, when we spotted a possible new trend in school leadership, we set out to investigate it in three places: New York, London and Toronto. If history plays out, the emerging patterns of leadership in these cities may well have important lessons for others around the world.
In 2008, we noticed a growing number of primary and secondary school leaders under 40 here in London. This cohort of younger leaders captured our interest. They marked the arrival of Generation X into top posts and a departure from the traditional Boomer-filled school leadership landscape. As leaders’ beliefs and practices are strongly influenced by the era in which they grew up, will this new generation of leaders inspire a shift in educational practice and innovation? Are they experiencing leadership differently than their predecessors?
To answer these questions, we have set out to learn more about Generation X leaders in three Global Educational Cities in our new ESRC-funded study.  However, the first question most people ask our team is, ‘Why Generation X leaders?’ Our answer is quite simple.
Born between 1960-1980, Generation X-ers are reported to be: techno-savvy, globally-minded, collaborative, pragmatic and interested in work-life balance. In addition, they have grown up being told they will have more than five different jobs in a lifetime!  
As a starter, Generation X leaders may apply these values and characteristics to develop new ways of leading schools and working with students. Based on our early data, our Generation X school leaders appear to:

  • express great optimism that their values and abilities can positively influence their schools and student outcomes
  • face pressure to work twice as hard and be twice as good to prove their merit
  • demonstrate comfort and appreciation with the accountability systems that have been in place since they started their teaching careers
  • express uncertainty about “what they want to be when they grow up”


  • be actively encouraged to develop work-life balance… however this only appears to apply to leaders with children!

Follow this space for more details on what we are learning about Generation X school leaders and emerging educational trends in these Global Cities. Also, if you are, or know, a Generation X school leader, please get in touch!