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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: Dr Sue Swaffield Full-time enrolled 2016-17: 12
Open to: MPhil, 2 Yr MEd, PACES MEd Part-time enrolled 2016-17: 17
Full-time deadline: 30/03/2017 % International: 34%
Part-time deadline:31/05/2017 % Home: 66%
Application Written Task

This route 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. The teaching team draw on their research to illustrate ideas, and occasionally welcome visiting academics to enrich the route 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 educational leadership and school improvement issues and practices;
  • 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 route 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 route and for supporting you, there is an expectation that you take responsibility for your own learning, and both contribute to 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 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 into early evening.

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, and student presentations. You will also be expected to engage in self-directed work and study, sometimes with other students in small groups, and sometimes 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 (described below). In 2016-17, full time students will follow all 8 themes. Part time students will study themes 5-8 in 2016-17, and those continuing to their second year in 2017-18 will study themes 1-4.

Module 1: Leadership for Learning
Module 2: Policy, Structures and Change
Module 3: School Effectiveness and School Improvement
Module 4: Issues and Dilemmas
Module 5: Perspectives on Leadership
Module 6: Perspectives on Learning
Module 7: Schools, Cultures and Communities
Module 8: Educational Evaluation

Further detailed information on above modules.


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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 route 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:

Sue Swaffield

Panayiotis Antoniou

Riikka Hofmann


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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 route 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 route, 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).

As well as books, take every opportunity to explore journal articles, professional material (such as magazines and reports), as well as news items. The National College (formerly NCSL) (www.nationalcollege.org.uk) has an extensive leadership library, and many publications from the team can be found on www.educ.cam.ac.uk/centres/lfl/.