School Leadership Toolkit
for equity and learning


The promotion of reflections and policy planning on school leadership policies for equity and learning has to be based on clear and unambiguous terms about what we mean by "public policy on school leadership for equity and learning".

How public policy on school leadership can be defined?
Public policies on school leadership commonly include:

  • the central or regional/state strategies on school leadership (related, for example, to autonomy, or the preparation of school leaders),
  • the funding made available to implement related programmes, reforms or projects,
  • the implementers of the programmes, reforms or projects,
  • the institutions that authoritatively monitor and enforce the implementation of public policy affecting school leadership,
  • and the mechanisms that have been put in place to control and steer leadership in schools, and
  • the existing legislative framework and relevant regulations (e.g. regulations regarding the selection procedures of school principals).

  • Public policy on school leadership as a course of government action
    Based on the above, public policy on school leadership can be defined as:
    a course of action taken by governments and their agencies with the goal to directly (and also indirectly) shape leadership practices in schools. The choice of not taking action by a government can also be considered as a form of public policy, given that it does not do anything to change the status-quo regarding school leadership.
    It important to understand public policy not only as laws, regulations, strategies, programmes or projects but also as discourse and as an emergent phenomenon. Public policies on school leadership can be understood as a discursive terrain upon which some conceptions, rules of logic and enactments of school leadership and school management are privileged while others are considered as irrelevant or outdated.

    Public policy on school leadership as discourse
    Based on the above, public policy on school leadership can be defined as:
    the policy discourse that serves as a resource for ideas, metaphors, concepts etc. which is utilized by stakeholders and policy makers in the process of interaction that formulates school leadership policy problem identification, policy planning and implementation.

    The European Policy Network on School Leadership (EPNoSL)
    The development of the School Leadership Toolkit for equity and learning is based on the results of the activities undertaken by the European Policy Network on School Leadership (EPNoSL).

    Since 2011 EPNoSL has grown into a wide network of stakeholders from more 42 European institutions. It has been joined by several Ministries of Education across Europe, research and academic institutions, agencies responsible for the preparation and professional development of school leaders, and national and Europe-wide associations of school leaders, teachers and parents.
    Conceptions of public policy on school leadership: Implications
    The two conceptions of public policy on school leadership described above have an important implication on the design of the School Leadership Toolkit.
    School leadership as a solution to the policy problems/challenges of equity and learning in schools
    A major challenge in school leadership policy development is to clarify what is the policy problem(s) space upon which policy reflections and planning should be oriented.

    School leadership can contribute to the solution of the policy problems of equity and learning in schools across Europe. Stated in other words, school leadership can contribute to address the policy challenges of equity and learning in schools across Europe.

    In turn, leadership in European schools (its quality and effectiveness) is a policy problem/challenge on its own, affected by various factors (e.g., professionalism of school leaders, room of manoeuvre they have to manage and lead their school, etc) which demands policy solutions. The European Policy Network on School Leadership (EPNoSL) has identified a number of potential policy solutions, focusing particularly on the areas of school autonomy, accountability, distributed leadership and the preparation and professional development of school leaders. Each one of these policy areas also may represent a different policy problem/challenge that requires its own policy solutions.

    Equity and learning in schools are likely to have different characteristics as policy problems/challenges, depending on the national or regional context they are observed. For example, the causes of these problems may be somewhat different from national to national context and different factors may affect them in ways that are unique to each context.
    All policy problems have their own context-specific characteristics. As a consequence,
    the policy solutions aimed to improve the quality and effectiveness of school leadership have to be responsive to the idiosyncrasies of specific national or regional contexts.


    Designed by Andreas Kollias
    School leadership as a policy solution to equity and learning in schools depends on policy solutions in other interrelated policy problem/challenge areas

    The “wicked” nature of the problems/challenges of equity and learning in schools
    A second major issue in school leadership policy development is how we conceptualize the nature of the problems/challenges of equity and learning in schools and on this basis the nature of the proposed policy solutions that the School leadership Toolkit aims to facilitate reflections upon.

    The problems/challenges of equity and learning in schools can hardly qualify as, what Rittel and Webber (1973) have called, “tame” or “benign” problems, because, for example, they can never have a single “right” solution. Both learning and equity in schools represent what Rittel and Webber (1973) named “wicked” problems and Ackoff (1974) “messes”.
    “Wicked” are educational and wider social and economic problems/challenges which are not easily definable and the information policy makers need to solve/address them depends heavily on the political ideas they have on solving/addressing them.

    For example, if we accept that part of the problems of equity and learning in schools is lack of quality school leadership then “improved school leadership” is a solution to the problem/challenge of equity. As a next step, if we agree that lack of quality programmes for preparing school leaders is one of the deficiencies of the system causing problems of equity and low achievement in schools, then "improved school leadership training programmes" may be the locus of solution, and so on.

    However, it is difficult to expect that solutions to the problems/challenges of equity and learning in schools, such as more room for manoeuvre to schools, or more training on leadership, will solve them once and for all. This is because their causes are complex and as problems/challenges they continually evolve and transform; thus the search for their definition and resolution never ends.

    Furthermore, in democratic societies stakeholders should always be able to argue for their case and therefore no solution can be considered as “end solution”.
    Overall, we cannot speak of an optimal policy solution to these problems/challenges but about better or worse policy solutions framed by an evolving public discourse.

    It is also difficult to fully evaluate how good a policy solution has been unless sufficient time has passed so as to be able to deeply understand its impact, and its intended and unintended consequences.

    Every solution to the problems/challenges of equity and learning in schools, such as “improved school leadership”, after being implemented, cannot be easily corrected or altered. For example, the effects of an ineffective training programme for school leaders will follow them for a long time. It is difficult to “undo” what these individuals have learned or did because of their training. It is also impossible to take back the resources that have been invested to train them.