Collaboration for educational change: Examining the leadership of professional collaboration in the pursuit of educational change

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Collaboration has long featured as a policy mechanism, an organisational structure, a tool to support professional practice, and a dominant discursive concept in the field of education (Campbell, 2021). Alongside this has been an emphasis on the role of collaborative processes in the leadership of change in educational organisations (Kaufman, et al, 2020). With this comes significant expectations and anticipated outcomes when it comes to how collaboration is understood and mobilised. With much emphasis across the domains of practice, policy, and research highlighting the forms collaboration takes and a values driven orientation to its use, this paper offers a critical examination as to the positioning and possibilities of varied form of leadership to enable collaboration that achieves the intentions behind its use. Drawing upon critical policy analysis and empirical work with primary school headteachers in Scotland, the questions driving this study are:

• How is collaboration understood across the domains of research, policy and practice?

• What is the role of leadership, in all its forms, in processes of educational change?

Deriving from an interpretivist paradigm and articulated within the frame of pragmatic social constructivism, a novel theoretical framework was created, emphasising the contextual influences centred around leadership that enable collaboration to happen. This was utilised in order to analyse how collaboration is understood in the literature in relation to leadership and educational change, and subsequent analysis of data collected. A critical policy analysis focusing on key policy texts, using Scotland as a context of study, drew upon both the novel theoretical framework and an original analytical framework emphasising policy drivers, mechanisms, and consequences. Through these frameworks, this study offers critical insight into dimensions of the leadership of collaboration that are rarely examined. This includes insight into and analysis of the lived reality of the varied forms leadership of collaboration can take through semi-structured interviews with primary school headteachers from two Scottish local authorities, and an exploration of the commonalities and contradictions, with the insights derived through critical policy analysis.

What this study has begun to demonstrate is the limited advancement of thinking in recent years on the meaning and conceptualisation of collaboration, and the role of leadership. To achieve its intended impact, collaboration requires a complex consideration of the varied political and organisational influences on and drivers of collaboration in a range of forms. Through the articulation of an alternative framework for understanding collaboration within the domains of practice, policy, and research, the results of this study offers a new frame through which the complex forms, drivers, and influences of collaboration can be understood, and the implications for those exercising leadership of it from a variety of positions and standpoints within a system. In doing so, the study demonstrates the need for further critical examination of where power is situated within systems in order to enable more responsive approaches to collaboration to emerge from within the communities they are intended to impact, and in doing so, more successfully strive towards broader systemic goals. Copyright © 2024 ICSEI.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024
EventInternational Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement 2024 - Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 08 Jan 202412 Jan 2024


ConferenceInternational Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement 2024
Abbreviated titleICSEI 2024
Internet address


Campbell, P. (2024, January 8–12). Collaboration for educational change: Examining the leadership of professional collaboration in the pursuit of educational change [Paper presentation]. International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement 2024 (ICSEI 2024), Dublin, Ireland.


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