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Educational Leadership and School Improvement

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One of the most challenging yet rewarding journeys I have ever embarked on
Key Facts
Route Co-ordinator: Pete Dudley Full-time enrolled 2018-19: 10
Open to: MPhil, 2 Yr MEd, PACES MEd Part-time enrolled 2018-19: 15
Full-time deadline: 27/02/2020 % International: 32%
Part-time deadline: 02/06/2020 % Home: 68%
Application Written Task

This course provides a broad-based view of educational leadership and school improvement, both through the explicit and focused study of specific concepts and issues, and through their application in the conduct of individual research projects. Members of the teaching team draw on their own and wider research to illustrate ideas, and occasionally welcome visiting academics to enrich the course still further. Students are encouraged to share their experiences and perceptions, and to learn from each other while relating knowledge, principles and insights to their own contexts. Participants come with varied backgrounds, from the UK and overseas and as such the course has an international perspective.

We aim to offer participants the opportunity to develop:

  • an advanced knowledge and understanding of educational leadership and school improvement, including the 'Leadership for Learning' framework;
  • a familiarity with a range of frameworks for understanding pupil, professional and organisational learning;
  • a set of skills for analysing issues and practices in: educational leadership; institutional/school improvement; and system development;
  • the ability to understand and contribute to the leadership of educational initiatives and contribute to informed development of policy and practice in educational contexts.

What does this course offer?

The opportunities for learning on the ELSI course are designed to reflect our conceptions of learning and leadership and the principles and values of 'Leadership for Learning'. This means that whilst the Faculty lecturers take responsibility for the organisation of the course and for supporting you, there is an expectation that you take responsibility for your own learning, and both contribute and learn from other members of the group. Students come from different backgrounds and with a variety of experiences, which adds a real richness to the group. We aim to draw upon your own knowledge and experiences and to encourage you to share these sensitively with others. As a community of learners we are interdependent.


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How is the course organised?

Students on the MPhil course complete the course in one year and have teaching sessions throughout the week. Students on the MEd course complete the course part time over two years and have one teaching session per week on a Wednesday afternoon extending into early evening (normally 2:00-7:00pm).

During sessions you will experience a variety of face-to-face activities offering opportunities for learning. For example, there may be a lecture to the whole group, discussions, small group activities, simulations and student presentations. You will also be expected to engage in self-directed work and study, sometimes with other students, and at other times on your own. You will be encouraged to develop critical friendship groups with fellow students, and to both give and gain support through these groups. These will complement your one-to-one supervisions with a lecturer that focus upon your assessed assignments.

The content is covered through eight interrelated themes for students on the MPhil and 2-year MEd course. PACES-MEd students will cover four. 

  • Module 1 Leadership for Learning: The bedrock of the ELSI MEd/MPhil and of 'Leadership for Learning: the Cambridge Network' Both leadership and learning are viewed as shared as much as individual, activities, and agency, moral purpose and principles are key elements in their interrelationship. We relate the LfL framework to our own learning, examine its adoption in different settings, and consider implications.
  • Module 2 Policy, Structures and Change: We consider the different ways policy is conceived, and explore the underlying assumptions. We examine various organising principles, and what we know about change in a school context, relating theory to practice.
  • Module 3 School Effectiveness and School Improvement: In this theme we learn about and critique the school effectiveness movement. We also examine school improvement, asking what 'improvement' really means, and consider some of the complex issues relating to improving effective teaching and learning
  • Module 4 Networks and System Leadership: In this option we explore the nature of leadership as it manifests in networks and system leadership contexts. We will explore system thinking, collaborative leadership and the rewards and complexity of achieving systemic change.
  • Module 5 Perspectives on Leadership: Educational leadership research is a continually developing broad field encompassing many approaches and angles. We learn about various perspectives, concepts and issues, and relate our these to our experience and situations.Consideration goes beyond those in formal leadership positions to include everyone who can bring about change.
  • Module 6 Perspectives on Learning: We explore some of the complex issues around learning. We examine different theories of learning and conceptions of ability, and discuss their implications. Conditions and approaches that support and frustrate learning are considered.
  • Module 7 Schools, Cultures and Communities: We explore our understanding of 'a school', considering the different cultures that schools exhibit, and the community and wider societal influences on schools. The contributions of various 'stakeholders' - particularly pupils, parents and teachers are discussed.
  • Module 8 Educational Evaluation: Whether we are evaluating the educational achievements of an individual pupil, a year group, a school or system, there are many issues to be understood and addressed. In this theme we consider a number of approaches to educational evaluation, their strengths, weaknesses and fitness for purpose.

Each theme will draw on research, practice and also explore issues and dilemmas and apply theory associated with the theme through group tasks and activities.


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Research Method Strand

All of our Masters degrees are designated research degrees in education. This means that a key part of the degree involves developing a good understanding of a wide range of empirical and non-empirical research methods (including techniques for collecting and analysing qualitative and quantitative data) and then applying these research methods to practical issues in education. Students develop an understanding of different research strategies, foster skills in appraising and synthesising published research studies and acquire the understanding and skills necessary for designing, conducting, analysing, interpreting and reporting a small-scale research study. Discussion of educational research methodology is integral to the ELSI sessions, and the second essay and thesis explicitly assess knowledge and understanding of research methods.

All students on the ELSI course also attend a generic research methods strand, accounting for approximately one-third of the whole programme. Methods sessions are essential for a research-based Masters degree and constitute about one-third of the whole programme. The research methods strand covers a broad range of social science research methods and is essential for Masters level understanding and critical engagement with the research literature. It offers opportunities and encouragement to apply the knowledge gained to your thematic area, and vice versa, as well as introducing research methods beyond those commonly used in ELSI.

Detailed information.


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Who are the course team?

The course is staffed by a team of established faculty members who provide teaching and supervision. Other colleagues also contribute one-off lectures:

Pete Dudley

Sue Swaffield

Riikka Hofmann

Elaine Wilson

Susan Robertson

John MacBeath


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Where do our students go?

Following completion of the course,  students often successfully apply for promotions to senior posts, within current or new schools or educational institutions or take on additional roles or responsibilities.  Others continue to doctoral study (the PhD or Ed D), either full or part time.


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What our students say

View videos and interviews with our students, and read about their experiences and feedback.

Videos and interviews.


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Before Applying

Candidates applying for the course would normally be expected to have been teaching for at least three years, and to have experience of exercising leadership beyond the classroom - often but not exclusively through formal positions of responsibility.

Before applying, think about why you want to follow this particular course, and the specific issues related to educational leadership and school improvement that interest and excite you. It is helpful to give an indication in your application of your initial ideas about your research agenda, and how this relates to your professional experience, although we appreciate that your ideas will change and develop as you engage with study.

Preparatory reading: As a professional interested in ELSI you have probably already read a few of the huge number of books related to educational leadership, school improvement and learning. You should take the opportunity to continue building your familiarity with texts and authors, especially related to your particular area of interest.

A useful book that helps with the process of academic reading and writing, as well as providing examples of research in the field, is:

Wallace, M. and Poulson, L. (eds) (2003) Learning to read critically in Educational Leadership and Management (London: Sage).

The key text for Leadership for Learning is:

MacBeath, J. and Dempster, N. (eds) (2008) Connecting Leadership and Learning: Principles for Practice (London, Routledge).

There are many relevant websites, for example The British Educational Leadership, Management & Administration Society and the Education Development Trust. More and more articles are being published as open access, and many LfL publications can be found on the Leadership for Learning (LfL) web page.