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Keynotes announced for BELMAS Conference 2024

BELMAS is delighted to announce its keynote speakers for the 2024 conference held at the Golden Jubilee Conference Hotel in Clydebank, Glasgow, Scotland.

You read about each speaker, and their abstracts for the keynote below.


Prof. Walter Humes Biography

Walter Humes taught English in secondary schools before working in a college of education and several Scottish universities. He has been a Professor of Education at the Universities of Aberdeen, Strathclyde and West of Scotland. He is now an Honorary Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Stirling. His publications include work on educational policy, curriculum studies, history of education, teacher education, and educational leadership and management. He is co-editor of Scottish Education published by Edinburgh University Press (5th edition, 2018).

In 2019 he received a John Nisbet Fellowship from the British Educational Research Association for his lifetime contribution to educational research, the first Scottish recipient of the award. He was a member of the Expert Panel advising Professor Ken Muir as he prepared his report Putting Learners at the Centre: Towards a Future Vision for Scottish Education (Scottish Government, 2022). In November 2023, Professor Humes gave evidence to the Education, Children and Young People Committee of the Scottish Parliament on the progress of educational reform.

Keynote Abstract

From Aspirational Rhetoric to Critical Interrogation: asking the right questions about leadership, management and administration

The conference theme encourages us to think about purposes in educational leadership, management and administration. This is a timely focus, as the field has expanded and diversified considerably since the organisation was first founded (initially as BEAS, then BEMAS, now BELMAS). But it is also a challenge, given the many levels where the concept of leadership is invoked – classrooms, schools, local authorities, academy trusts, national organisations, teacher education institutions, central government, international policy agencies (such as the OECD). Is it possible to identify a central set of purposes which have relevance to all of these arenas? Add to this, the many different varieties of educational leadership that have been identified in the vast literature on the subject, and ongoing methodological debates about the best means of researching the territory. Unsurprisingly, sceptical voices about the intellectual coherence of the field have been raised.

To gain some leverage on these issues, several approaches will be adopted. Attention will be given to the history of the field, noting the discursive shifts that have taken place. Who or what has driven these discursive shifts – politicians, academics, professionals, institutions, ideologies? The importance of critical interrogation of documents introducing new policy directions will be emphasised. What is their knowledge base? Whose interests do they serve? What kind of leadership is expected from those who are required to implement them? As part of this, the role of educational bureaucracies will be examined – their rules and conventions, their effect on officials, the kind and quality of thinking that they allow. It will be argued that the most pressing need is for greater intellectual leadership that has a strong conceptual basis but which also connects with the daily experience of those at the front line of educational practice. Two examples of educational leaders who met these criteria will be given.


Dr. Saeeda Shah Biography

Dr. Saeeda Shah is an internationally recognised scholar with established solid record of scholarship in fields including educational leadership, gender, faith, multiculturalism, equality and education of Muslims. She has published widely in highly prestigious academic journals with thousands of views/reads, as well as written many book chapters for edited volumes. One of her single-authored books Education, Leadership and Islam (Routledge) is the first cutting-edge scholarly work in this field. She have presented at 100+ international conferences, 46 of which are invited keynotes/guest-lectures, and now after retirement she often gets invited for keynotes and to examine PhDs in the field.

Keynote Abstract

Who or What is Educational Leadership for, and its Purposes: Addressing Diversity

The two-pronged conference theme opens two fascinating areas for debate. First, who or what is educational leadership for, and secondly, purposes in Educational Leadership, Management and Administration. Recognising that educational leadership might have always been functioning in one or the other form, formally or informally, along with the processes of learning, this topical theme draws attention to the diversity of contexts and situated needs that might have defined and shaped the educational leadership aims and purposes. Ever-growing literature on educational leadership challenges the question itself with regard to who or what educational leadership is for, pointing to the range and scales of diversity. I will not go into the history of evolution of educational leadership theories, concepts and practices here, or who have driven these debates or determined the practices over times and for what purposes. Many researchers and academics have presented their respective views and the debates are endemic.

The challenge is now and here. This keynote responds to the conference theme in the context of increasingly globalised societies that are constantly being shaped and re-shaped by multiple complex dynamics and intersectionalities. Who defines the aim/s and purposes of educational leadership, management and administration may vary not only across political, religious, social, economic, ideological spectrums but also in response to the inner societal diversity. Educational institutions as social organisations have increasingly complex population structures comprising of diverse social, economic, faith and other groups. This has implications for educational leadership with regard to delivering on the aims and purposes of education that are often defined by those in power to maintain control while ironically claiming to recognise diversity and addressing its needs and expectations.

Historically and globally, ‘societies have defined and delivered education as considered appropriate by those in positions of control’ (Shah, 2016), and therefore, role of educational leaders has generally been expected to deliver on the given aims of education in specific contexts promoting unity and harmony primarily to maintain that control. Discussing the strategy of control to achieve harmony, Sen posits that the hope of harmony in today’s world lies in a clearer understanding of our sheer diversity (Sen 2007). How this hope can be materialised links with purposes of educational leadership, demanding a critique and understanding of diversity to work towards development of individual capabilities rather than aiming for traditionally emphasized unity and control.

In today’s increasingly diverse societies, more so in developed countries for obvious influx of diversity, the question who or what educational leadership is for gains higher significance in the context of existing power structures, social boundaries, political categories, legitimacy challenges, and related factors, pointing to the issues of recognising and managing diversity, and developing individual human capabilities. Sen explains capability as how well people are doing in their ability to live a life that we have reason to value, not their wealth of resources or subjective well-being. If educational processes are assumed to develop human capabilities and as Sen argues the main purpose of development is to spread ‘freedoms’ (1999) then the questions are:
• Who and what drives the purposes agenda for leadership?
• Is it driven by the emphasis on unity and control?
• Is diversity in conflict with the traditional emphasis on unity and control?
• Does focus on unity and harmony push towards ‘a smothering out of differences?’

Amartya Sen (1995) posits that the claim “all people are created equal” serves largely to deflect attention from the fact that we differ in multiple ways that need to be recognised with a focus on promoting individual capabilities and freedom. If learning is to enable and develop individual capabilities and freedom then diversity needs to be respected and celebrated working towards ‘a unity put together through negotiation and reconciliation, not the denial, stifling or smothering out of differences’ (Bauman, 2000, 178). Sen. (1999) emphasises human freedom for capability development contrasting it with narrower views of development that identify it with the growth of gross national product, or with the rise in personal incomes. He recognises these as important means for expanding the freedoms enjoyed by members of a society but maintains that ‘if freedom is what development advances, then there is a major argument for concentrating on that overarching objective’ (Sen 1999, 1). If education is for human development and social equity then educational leaders need to focus on developing capabilities of individuals and promoting ‘freedoms’. Sen argues that ‘development requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom: poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation … the contemporary world denies elementary freedoms to vast numbers’ (Sen, 1999, p.1), and he explains this phenomenon as ‘unfreedom’. The role of educational leaders is facilitating the route/processes for ‘elementary freedoms’ for the range of diversity, promoting equality, inclusion, and development of individual capabilities.
Sen emphasises interconnections between ‘freedoms’ and ‘unfreedom’ arguing that ‘economic unfreedom can breed social unfreedom, just as social or political unfreedom can also foster economic unfreedom’ (Sen, 1999, p4). He postulates that ‘Freedoms are not only the primary ends of development [and therefore of education], they are also among its principal means’ (Sen, 1999, p5). He discusses how freedoms of different kinds link with one another, explaining that social opportunities (in the form of education and health provisions) facilitate economic participation that is linked with political freedoms. This is what educational leadership is for: opening spaces for voices and listening to them. To listen to others we need to develop respect for each other’s differences (Appiah, 2006) and also a willingness and preparedness to justify our action with reasons (Benhabib 2006) and with a belief in their capabilities. ‘Leader, leading and leadership are hollow unless we attach them to a purpose, and focusing on education means that this is located within learners and learning’ (Helen, 2006, 262). Sen argues that ‘With adequate social opportunities, individuals can effectively shape their own destiny and help each other. They need not be seen primarily as passive recipients of the benefits of cunning development programs. There is indeed a strong rationale for recognizing the positive role of free and sustainable agency’ (Sen, 1999, p5). The questions are:
• Is the aim of educational leadership developing capabilities, and facilitating freedoms for all: facilitating ‘free and sustainable agency’?
• Are we as educational leaders/teachers promoting this?


Dr. Richard Niesche Biography

Richard Niesche is Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Director of Higher Degree Research in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. His research interests are in the areas of critical perspectives in educational leadership, the school principalship, post-structural philosophy, and socially just leadership. He has published his research in a number of books and peer reviewed journals, and he is also the founding co-editor of the ‘Educational Leadership Theory’ book series with Springer. Recent books published include Social, Critical and Political Theories for Educational Leadership (2019), Theorising Identity and Subjectivity in Educational Leadership Research (2020) and Understanding Educational Leadership: Critical Perspectives and Approaches (2021).

Keynote Abstract

Critical perspectives in educational leadership: Still relevant or needed now more than ever?

In this keynote, I argue for the ongoing need for critical perspectives in educational leadership. While the work of our school leaders and educators is fundamentally important to the success of education and schooling systems, the foundations and history of the field are being lost. Within a broader decline of humanities and history in universities globally, educational leadership is a field beset with seductive and simplistic calls for ‘best practice’ and ‘what works’ solutions, often delivered by gurus and consultants driven by a huge leadership industry. While these instrumentalist approaches can be of value, and educational leadership programs around the world are in increasing demand, the history and foundational knowledge of the field is at the same time being lost. Through this keynote, I make the case that critical perspectives are more than just ‘critique’. They can provide generative approaches to leadership that focus on purpose and forms of socially just leadership and schooling that are needed to overcome longstanding inequalities in many education systems around the world.


Registration for presenters closes on Friday 1st March 2024 which includes an earlybird offer. All other registrations at standard price close on Friday 14th June 2024. To find out more about the BELMAS Conference, please click here.