Confronting the disadvantage gap: the challenges to transformative leadership in a high-stakes assessment system

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Students with low socio-economic status (SES) often have lower levels of academic achievement. In England, various UK governments have sought to address this disadvantage gap through reforms to national large-scale assessments, school accountability mechanisms, and educational governance structures. While scholarly research highlights the important mediatory role of educational leaders in policy implementation and student performance, typologies of successful leadership tend to emphasise ‘what works’ at the organisational level. Conversely, theories of transformative leadership acknowledge that efforts to provide an equitable education are related to, and should address how to transform, wider social power structures. With an abductive methodology, this qualitative study explores the experiences and perspectives of three academy headteachers in their work with the most disadvantaged students in their school communities. Semi-structured interview data were analysed thematically to evaluate whether and how their leadership practices might be considered transformative. The findings suggest that these headteachers are mostly transformative at the individual level which aligns with the current UK government social mobility agenda. Moreover, despite their courage to promote equity of opportunity, transformative leadership is restricted by government cuts to public expenditure, a high-stakes accountability system focused on students’ academic performance, and the limited political capital of students and headteachers.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Inclusive Education
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Nov 2023


  • assessment
  • England
  • inclusion
  • socio-economic disadvantage
  • Transformative leadership


Dive into the research topics of 'Confronting the disadvantage gap: the challenges to transformative leadership in a high-stakes assessment system'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this