Strategic Leadership and Educational Improvement

Anthony H. Normore (College of Education, Florida International University, Florida, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 1 October 2004




Normore, A.H. (2004), "Strategic Leadership and Educational Improvement", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 42 No. 5, pp. 601-604.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

In their book Strategic Leadership and Educational Improvement, Preedy, Glatter and Wise have compiled a compelling series of educational perspectives and approaches written by prolific scholars in the field of educational change, strategic leadership and learning. The book is part of a three part volume series including Effective Educational Leadership and Leading People and Teams in Education. The work of the different internationally renowned contributors explores the (p. 1) “current thinking and debate on some of the major strategic leadership challenges and concerns, facing twenty‐first century educational organizations”. The book goes beyond the core politics of education and focuses on the importance of deep understanding of strategic concerns currently being addressed in the education arena.

The format of the book is clear and easy to follow. The book begins with an introductory chapter by the editors. They provide a quick synopsis of the four main issues that currently face educational organizations and are the foci of this book. These include the influences of strategic development on:

  1. 1.

    external environment;

  2. 2.

    societal and organizational culture;

  3. 3.

    change management; and

  4. 4.

    organizational effectiveness and improvement, for quality of teaching and learning.

The book is then divided into four parts. Each part consists of a series of interconnected comprehensive chapters that lead to specific explorations and understandings of the particular theme.

The four chapters in Part I focus on the importance of understanding contextual elements and the external influences on strategic planning in educational organisations. In chapter two, Leithwood, Jantzi, and Steinbach present a comprehensive list of criteria for designing future schools with focus on inclusiveness, efficiency and effectiveness, and adaptability. These authors assert that schools of the future (p. 31) should be capable of “growing out of the design of today's schools”. In chapter three, Levin explores the advantages and disadvantages of politics and their effects on policy by offering a four‐element organizational model for the reform process that can be useful in developing and implementing government policies. These include (p. 33) origins, adoption, implementation and outcomes. Glatter presents a set of models (p. 49) (i.e. competitive market, school and local empowerment, quality control) for analyzing educational governance in chapter four. He emphasizes that these models can be used in varying contexts for accountability, school autonomy and the governance of school education. In chapter five, Bottery (p. 63) explores the definitions of “educational quality” in the private and public sectors of the educational system (e.g. traditional, expert, bureaucratic, managerial, civic, etc.) and redefines this concept by reiterating the importance of how “internally generated” quality initiatives (p. 60) “should be a natural outgrowth of a civic culture value system”.

Part II explores the concept of cultures and how society and organizational culture influence decision‐making and strategy development. In chapter six, Dimmock and Walker provide insights into educational leadership and management by offering a cross‐cultural comparison model between the two. These authors criticize the scant attention given to culture and context models for its ethnocentrism. They focus on system and school level characteristics to provide a (p. 77) “useful conceptual framework for drawing valid international comparisons in school leadership and management”. Stoll presents definitions of cultures in chapter seven and provides models for understanding the role culture plays in organizational improvement. She asserts that agents of change must attend to reculturing by (p. 97) “taking charge of change” and not “just manage change”. This process involves student and community cultures in order to promote professional communities. In chapter eight, David Hargreaves offers an overview of “diagnostic tools” (p. 109) (e.g. diagnostic, directional, managerial) that can help senior personnel in schools to understand, change and manage school culture.

Part III examines some of the current issues involved in strategy development and how planned change is managed and sustained successfully. In chapter nine, Foskett presents a marketing model and shows its connection with accountability and external relations management. As an example (p. 128, 130) he demonstrates how a model for student recruitment in educational institutions goes beyond transactional or exchange relationships. Additionally, three case studies are presented at the end of the chapter to help the reader understand more clearly about some of the (p. 135) external pressures and how schools and colleges have responded in the market place. In chapter ten, Johnson and Scholes present various models of the strategy process to explain how organizational strategy models develop. These authors offer three useful strategy “lenses” of looking at strategy development including (p. 143):

  1. 1.

    strategy as design;

  2. 2.

    strategy as experience; and

  3. 3.

    strategy as ideas.

In chapter eleven, Davies and Ellison demonstrate with the use of case studies how non‐educational frameworks (e.g. Kawasaki, General Electric, Boston Consulting Group) of strategic analysis can be applied to the educational setting by demonstrating how to collect data and how to use it effectively to bring together information in different forms for organizational improvement. Fullan draws on chaos and complexity theory in chapter twelve to explain the importance of understanding the role of conflict and change resistance. He asserts that educational change fails (p. 185) “partly because of the assumptions of planners, and partly because solving substantial problems is an inherently complex business”. Fullan continues to explain these two particular issues in comprehensive detail and offers encouragement to strategic planners when engaged in the change process. He reminds the reader of the ten “do” and “don't” assumptions as basic to a successful approach to educational change and capitalizes on the importance of being (p. 197) “a critical consumer of external ideas while working from a base of understanding and altering local context”. In chapter thirteen, McMahon offers a follow‐up case study of an unsuccessful primary school in the UK that appeared to be a potential success story based on the change initiatives and school improvement, five years earlier. McMahon traces the change process in this school in attempts to uncover the issues which caused it to lose momentum. She identifies the dynamics of the school community, the current ethos of the school, its problems (i.e. student discipline, communication barriers), and what it means to get back on track. The case is presented in a comprehensive manner with focus on the importance of sustainability of Improvement, in hopes that school leaders might learn from it if and when they experience transitions within their roles.

The final part of the book, Part IV, looks at concerns in the area of strategic leadership for organizational effectiveness and improvement. In chapter fourteen, Simkins presents various models of accountability and their connection with strategic choices in educational organizations. While the experiences are oriented towards England and Wales, much of what the chapter discusses is transferable on the international stage. Four modes of accountability (p. 226) (i.e. professional, central government control, community participation, market pressures) are emphasized and clearly displayed to explain the complex nature of external demands and internal accountability arrangements. In chapter fifteen, Mortimore and MacBeath review the literature on educational effectiveness and improvement, to demonstrate what the current research shows to date. Characteristics of effective and ineffective schools are discussed and where these “effects” lie (i.e. teacher, departmental, subject, whole‐school). In chapter sixteen, Ouston critiques some of the literature on school effectiveness and school improvement, insofar as arguing that there is no “quick fix” for organizational development. She offers her own perspectives on what delineates one concept from the other and suggests that school “people” need to revisit their definitions of what constitutes educational effectiveness. In chapter seventeen, Martinez reiterates the importance of comparing and contrasting research literature on improvement and effectiveness among British schools and colleges of education. The chapter delves into how schools and colleges can be useful to one another by borrowing on strategies for effectiveness to help each other improve. Finally, in chapter eighteen, MacBeath, Schratz, Meuret and Jakobsen provide case studies of schools involved in a large‐scale European project for self‐review and self‐evaluation. The case examples are part of a larger project that involved 101 schools from 18 countries who were engaged in identifying, prioritizing and developing areas for further and deeper inquiry. These authors trace the schools in the project to their beginnings and consider the impact at school levels, teachers and students. They explain the processes that were followed in schools in different countries, barriers and obstacles they faced, the supportive factors that were involved, and the changes that were made to policies and practices. This chapter is an excellent description of what schools experience during organizational change and how schools monitor their experiences as they engage in activities for improvement.

The book implies a collective expertise that assures all constituents of educational organisations that educational leaders must build a shared overview of the future of organisations with intent to promote continuous educational improvement. As stated by Preedy et al. (2003, p. 15) “…while systematic strategic development is both urgent and essential, it needs to be undertaken within a frame of reference” which accounts for “complexity, ambiguity and less‐than‐rational features of the environmental context and organizational decision‐making”. While the aim of the book is to (p. 1) “contribute to reflection and debate for educational leaders in schools and colleges” – it would certainly benefit other stakeholders in all learning institutions who are interested in current and past research for understanding the dynamics of effective leadership and the importance of strategic planning in educational organisations. In many ways, this book can serve as a consumer guide for those engaged in planning educational management and leadership development, including aspiring and practicing school leaders.

This book, Strategic Leadership and Educational Improvement, is a highly valuable, insightful and recommended volume, presented with great rigor and thought on contemporary leadership issues. It is especially recommended by the author of the paper for aspiring and practicing school leaders, education consultants and university faculties of education who engage in leadership preparation and training programs, researchers, and policy makers involved in organizational leadership and management.


Preedy, M., Glatter, R. and Wise, C. (2003), Strategic Leadership and Educational Improvement, Paul Chapman Publishing, London.

Related articles