Leadership is a key area of strategic and operational importance in the UK post-compulsory education sector. The sector is distinguished both by its huge size (£10 billion) and its strategic importance for the purposes of skills development to serve the UK economy and promote social inclusion (Leitch, 2006). Leadership is an important area of operations in the sector, being officially recognized in business-focused proactive terms in policy documents.
Staff in post-compulsory education are more skeptical and negative than policy-makers about the potential for leadership to change institutions in positive ways. Some researchers have also been critical about the ability of leadership to provide a solution for the achievement of massive institutional improvements, as many top-down policy-led changes and restructurings have occurred in the past and the sector has been characterized by ‘new managerialism’ and reductive performativity. Clashes between managerialism and professionalism have resulted in some conflict between managers and teaching staff. However, these conflicts are to some extent superficial and can be overcome by leaders who regard themselves as professionals able to transcend the limitations of transactional managerialism.
A collaborative model of professional leadership can be informed by authentic, democratic dialogue with practitioners. The role of coalitions that foster professional networking and collaborative leadership can be creatively developed through the establishment of intentionally designed communities of leadership practice. The CAMEL (Collaborative Approaches to the Management of e-Learning) JISC infoNet HEFCE/LGM-funded model for communities of practice is discussed as one model which provides a useful template for the development of shared knowledge through professional communities of practice in collaborative leadership. It is argued that this provides a helpful way of enabling and supporting leaders to advance their understanding and ‘know how’ in leadership practices in a sector currently facing significant challenges from demanding external targets and continuous monitoring in an ‘audit culture’. The difficult history of ‘new managerialism’ in the sector needs to be consigned to history and the page turned to a new beginning as post-compulsory education leaders engage in mutually supportive critical reflections via positive shared leadership development.