Social justice leadership in Scottish education

Deirdre Torrance, Christine Forde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Leadership has been identified in contemporary policy as a critical factor in taking forward school improvement and enhancing outcomes for pupils (Pontz, Nusche and Moorman, 2008) in many educational systems including Scottish education. A second policy driver in Scottish education currently is focused on ‘closing the gap’ (Scottish Government, 2016) between the attainment of pupils from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds and this is measured
largely in terms of assessment outcomes and post school destinations. However, there is a danger that such drivers become reductive and as a result the focus narrows to attainment statistics, causing social factors which militate against pupil achievement to be overlooked. In a context where school populations are becoming more diverse there is a question then about how headteachers maintain a more critical focus on the attainment and achievement of these
diverse groups of learners. This article explores the concept of ‘social justice leadership’ which has emerged in the literature in recent years to characterise the work of school leaders looking to enhance the learning outcomes for all learners in a school. The article draws from the case studies conducted in Scotland as part of the International School Leadership Development Network (ISLDN) research project on social justice leadership to explore this concept in a Scottish setting. As part of this study a framework was generated to track three levels of educational decision-making was generated encompassing the macro, meso and micro levels. This article uses the ISLDN framework to explore some of the enabling factors for headteachers in their practice as social justice leaders and some of the hindering factors that they grapple with.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-66
Number of pages16
JournalScottish Educational Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2017


  • social justice leadership
  • school leadership and social justice
  • leadership and equality
  • social justice leadership and Scottish education


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