Leadership, further education and social justice

Robert Smith, Vicky Duckworth

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


    Most further education college employees see their work as contributing to social justice. College mission statements emphasise meeting the needs of their communities, local employers and the economy with outstanding provision. But what tensions are there between these needs? What does it mean to meet the needs of communities? How does this overlap with a commitment to social justice? And what does outstanding provision with social justice at its heart look like? This report gathers evidence from a research project funded by the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL) to provide answers to these questions. Further education, the socially situated practice of teaching and learning engaged in by young people and adults in colleges across the UK, has an enormous potential contribution to make in addressing issues of social justice. Almost without exception, colleges of further education have an institutional history closely bound up with history of the town, city or area in which they are based. This historical identity connects colleges, physically and spatially, both to their past and to the communities they serve. However, the advent of marketization, and changes to funding and curriculum since incorporation, have had an impact on this historical identity. Competition with private training providers, school sixth forms and other colleges, a decade of austerity cuts and a turbulent policy environment all encourage top-down styles of leadership over more values-focused approaches, positioning colleges more as agents of central policy, responding to a national skills agenda. In such a context, how can we articulate alternative forms of college leadership that harness the sector?s potential contribution to social justice? This study explores how leadership in further education can actualise a commitment to social justice both at local level and, more broadly, in responding to the national policy context. Further education providers are often closely connected to local communities and see themselves as serving these communities first and foremost. But, of course, leadership needs also to respond to the external forces (curricula and funding changes as well as mergers and the changing landscapes of investment by local authorities) that impact on this localised purpose and function (Smith, 2017). Rather than viewing leadership as the psychological characteristic or property of individuals in senior positions, we recognise it as a characteristic of the actions of staff at all levels within colleges. Moving beyond psychology-based notions of connective and altruistic leadership (Lipman-Blumen, 1998; Salas-Vallina and Alegre, 2018), this project seeks to tease out and explore the strategies drawn on by leaders to develop and sustain a values-driven approach shaped by a commitment to social justice. Leadership of this kind, transformative leadership that recognises social justice as a central purpose, positions itself carefully in relation to the ecologies within which further education colleges sit, while interacting in an interrogative way with the further education system. This study will present critical evidence about the impact of such values-driven approaches to leadership. The project gathered data from different college settings in order to ascertain the extent to which transformative leadership is possible in further education and the factors that constrain and facilitate it. This data may help reconceptualise further education in ways that make explicit the social justice dimension and thus inform policy thinking on FE.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationLondon
    Publication statusPublished (VoR) - 5 Feb 2020


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