Hierarchy, Markets and Networks: Analysing the ‘self-improving school-led system’ in England


The latest meeting of the BELMAS Structural Reform Research Interest Group (RIG) took place on 26 November in Birmingham. It considered the findings and implications of a major research study recently completed and led at the UCL Institute of Education by Professor Toby Greany and Dr Rob Higham. The day was led by Toby Greany, now Professor of Education at the University of Nottingham. The four-year mixed methods study explores how schools, local authorities and other actors have responded to Government policy over recent years and what consequences are emerging at local and national levels. It explores how far the models of co-ordination and support that are emerging locally since 2010 represent a genuine basis for an equitable and inclusive ‘self-improving, school-led system’ and what factors help and hinder the achievement of such an aim. The day began with an overview of the research followed by a consideration of four overarching themes identified in the project report: commodification of professional knowledge; fragmentation, the changing role of the ‘middle tier’ and winners and losers; equity, stratification and vulnerable children; and legitimacy and trust. Finally, Toby presented a preliminary outline of findings of a recent study which explores the practices of high-performing school improvement providers (MATs, TSAs, federations and local authorities) with strategic responsibility for whole-school improvement across multiple schools.

Group and plenary discussions reflected on the report’s findings and conclusions. Themes and issues arising identified by participants included:

  • Problems of researching and generalising about a world that is both diverse/fragmented and fast-changing;
  • The need to further research on the issue of governance in all its forms, including school governors, the role of trusts and trustees and the roles of the RSC and Headteacher Boards;
  • The limitations placed in research by the lack of transparency in the system;
  • The importance of defending moral purpose around wider educational goals, sustaining education as the core purpose apart from business/market considerations, and giving teachers a voice and confidence in relation to these;
  • Addressing the key issue of equity: schools and pupils left out/behind. For pocy, if you put equity at the centre what would you do differently?

The slides for the presentation on the main report can be found at in the Document Library under ‘Hierarchy, Markets and Networks’. A copy of the project report can be downloaded free from the UCL IOE website.

Industry Twitter