'Closing the gap': systems leadership is no leadership at all without a moral compass - a Scottish perspective

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This conceptual paper provides a critical analysis of the current convergence of major policy initiatives in Scotland to improve learning and teaching, promote greater equity and close the attainment gap through systems level leadership and change. It is neither an empirical study nor a literature review but synthesises across a range of fields – social justice, poverty, social mobility, school improvement, leadership and policy – in order to cast light on the problem and to inform public policy and practice. However system level leadership is not unproblematic, with the terms system and leadership seen as malleable concepts (Boylan 2016), nor can it be seen as a panacea for all ills. The paper argues that educational policy needs to be seen as residing within wider social policy. Without recourse to addressing systemic inequalities in society and building the infrastructure and support structures around schools, schools, on their own, are unlikely to rise to the challenge. The paper argues for a melding of distributive leadership (with emancipatory intent and purpose) with systems leadership, characterised by meaningful collaboration and partnerships from 'within – to between – and beyond' schools (Chapman 2014), imbued with moral purpose.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-75
Number of pages27
JournalSchool Leadership and Management
Issue number1
Early online date1 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 19 Dec 2018


  • social Justice
  • leadership system
  • social mobility
  • child poverty
  • attainment gap
  • public policy


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