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An activity theory perspective on peer coaching

Rachel Lofthouse (Education, Communication and Language Science, Newcastle University, Newcastle, UK)
David Leat (Education, Communication and Language Science, Newcastle University, Newcastle, UK)

International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education

ISSN: 2046-6854

Article publication date: 31 May 2013




Coaching in educational settings is an alluring concept, as it carries associations with life coaching and well being, sports coaching and achievement and improving educational attainment. Although there are examples of successful deployment in schools, there is also evidence that coaching often struggles to meet expectations. This article aims to use socio‐cultural theory to explore why coaching does NOT transplant readily to schools, particularly in England, where the object of coaching activity may be in contradiction to the object of dominant activity in schools – meeting examination targets.


The article is a conceptual exploration of peer coaching through the lens of cultural historical activity theory, using an empirical base for exemplification.


It is argued that the results agenda, or performativity culture, in many schools is so strong that coaching is either introduced as part of the dominant discourse which meets resistance from staff, or where it develops in a more organic, “bottom up” approach, it may well clash with managerial cultures which demand accountability and surveillance, which does not sit well with trust‐based coaching partnerships.

Research limitations/implications

The contradictions described in the article suggest that more research is needed to explore how skilled coaches manage some mediation between the meta‐discourse of managerialism and the meso‐ and micro‐discourses underpinning meaningful professional learning.

Practical implications

The article provides encouragement for peer coaches who manage the boundary between trust‐based coaching and performativity agendas.


The application of cultural historical activity theory offers a powerful analytical tool for understanding the interaction of peer coaching with organisational cultures, particularly through their emphasis on different motives or objects for professional learning.



Lofthouse, R. and Leat, D. (2013), "An activity theory perspective on peer coaching", International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 2 No. 1, pp. 8-20.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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