Policy fudge and practice realities: Developing teacher leadership in Scotland

Deirdre Torrance, Daniel Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Scottish policy developments in initial teacher education, professional standards and career-long professional learning reflect a growing understanding of the leadership role teachers can play, particularly in curriculum and pedagogy, in improving the experiences and outcomes of pupils. In the policy rhetoric of reprofessionalisation, unpromoted teachers liberate their professional creativity, leading ‘bottom-up’ approaches to school improvement. However there are policy and conceptual tensions in the construction of ‘teacher leadership’, the related term ‘teacher leader’ and the practice realities experienced by teachers seeking to play this leadership role in their professional settings. This article explores these tensions in a small-scale mixed methods study of teachers participating in Masters-level ‘leadership development’ programmes. The study considers the policy and practice environments, motivations, supports and barriers that faced these Scottish teachers seeking to develop their leadership practices and capacities. A lack of clarity at national level for framing the practice of teacher leadership is identified. School staff require to develop for themselves understandings of the complex interplay between bottom-up and top-down leadership, local understandings of ‘what teacher leadership means and how it works in our school’, within a supportive culture. This was not found to be the norm. The article concludes by outlining implications for policy and practice, including the need to address a national ‘policy fudge’ around teacher leadership that adversely affects practice realities. As part of that, there is a need for further discussion around who is responsible and accountable within a distributed leadership perspective, for what and to whom?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-44
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Studies in Educational Administration
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2018


  • teacher leadership
  • teacher leaders
  • school improvement
  • distributed leadership
  • professional learning


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