Leadership and education

Leadership and education

Leadership is at the heart of quality education. It has been argued that it is the second most important school factor explaining learning outcomes. Leaders at multiple levels matter, from those within the school, to those outside of the school, and even those outside of education systems.

Take part in the online consultation for the 2024/5 GEM Report on leadership and education 

The new concept note (English, Français, Español, العربية, 汉语, Русский язык) for the 2024/5 GEM Report, developed based on a  think-piece  by David Gurr, details how the theme will be explored.  

Join our consultation using the comments section below to provide feedback on this concept note, suggest relevant evidence for the theme or new areas of research to be explored. 

The 2024/5 GEM Report will examine the requirements of good leadership in education and how they vary between countries and over time. It will look at the visions and goals that are driving leadership in education and will examine the extent to which – and through what practices – the exercise of leadership contributes to better education outcomes.

External factors, related to society, culture and governance, will be looked at with respect to their impact on effective leadership. Policy levers to develop leadership skills in different contexts will be reviewed.   

The report will cover education leaders at three levels:  

  • Within education institutions
  • Outside education institutions, at system level
  • Outside the education system 

The 2024/5 GEM Report will aim to address the following questions: 

  • Role: What are the requirements of good leadership in education and how do they vary between countries and over time?  
  • Influence: What vision and goals drive leadership in education and what are the signs of exercising positive influence? 
  • Impact: To what extent and through what practices does the exercise of leadership contribute to better education outcomes?  
  • Context: What social, cultural, governance or other preconditions are needed for the effective exercise of leadership in education? 
  • Nurture: What policy levers can be used to help develop leadership skills and how do such policies emerge around the world to respond to need? 

Country profiles on laws and policies related to leadership in education will feature in the PEER website and will complement the report. 

The concept note presents the early thinking of the team in the preparation of the 2024/5 GEM Report. Please join the consultation, using the comments section below or emailing us on gemreport@unesco.org.

We invite you to: 

  • provide substantive feedback to the proposed lines of research; 
  • recommend examples from around the world that illustrate good leadership and solutions to challenges found in various education systems; and 
  • recommend potential areas of new research drawing on various sources of data. 

Last but not least, we invite you to respond to the call for expressions of interest to contribute background papers for selected areas of the 2024/5 GEM Report. The deadline 14 April 2023.

20 thoughts on “Leadership and education

  1. Please see the REAL Centre paper for FCDO on transformative political leadership for girls’ education:
    ‘Transformative political leadership to promote 12 years of quality education for all girls’
    Rose, P., Gordon, R., Marston, L., Zubairi, A. and Downing, P. 2020
    Full paper: https://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/centres/real/publications/PoliticalLeadershipPaper_FINAL_With%20Forward_Website.pdf
    And policy note with UNGEI: https://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/centres/real/publications/26-EN-POLICY-NOTE-Political-leadership-LNGB-Feb-2020-DOUBLE-SPREADS.pdf

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Swiss Forum for Skills Development and International Cooperation (FoBBIZ) would be happy to join the consultation and ensure that Vocational Education and Training (VET) is not forgotten when it comes to educational leadership.

    However, more than the question of the qualification of VET professionals as quoted in the Education 2030 Framework for Action (UNESCO, 2015), the question of GOVERNANCE and the interaction of the various players at the respective national level is more central. The complexity in the area of VET is much greater than in other areas of education – and in some cases the various forces neutralize each other! That is for sure an interesting research area to talk about educational leadership.


  3. Dear Colleagues,

    I have become one of the top ten contributors of UNESCO-UNEVOC forum last year. The following consultancy is mainly based on my contribution during 2023 and focuses on transition to higher education which has gray areas.

    Shared leadership of transition to higher education sector by people of color and young people

    Fundamentally, shared leadership by people of color and young people are important, as we look into the education system as a whole and transition to higher education and/or employment in particular. Decolonization without decolonising is a notion whereby academic institutions from the global North have secured jobs and leadership didactic and narrativity, for the sake of giving voice to the oppressed and discriminated. However, shared leadership is the solution.

    Leadership itself can be shaped by science, which is the case in the American Higher Education sector. Improvement Science is applied by the organization known as Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Teaching in order to look into the leadership performance indicators of the sector. Having said that, integrating the practice of higher education leadership with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths can be challenging or unwarranted. As it stands, when multiculturalism and decolonisation are the agenda, integrating ethno-science/art, specifically to human resource management can be regarded as unscientific, unorthodox or inferior. Subsequently, betterment in staff development agenda, pay scale, culture based mental health services and the implications for youth engagement, curriculum development, accommodation and pension supplement payout can be overlooked. Alas, such “Scholarly Communicado or lobbying”, can remain without creating meaningful impact.

    Leadership in Diversity, Curriculum Development and Accreditation

    Continent specific qualification framework, without sidelining informal and non formal education is crucial in terms of assuring quality, equity, inclusion and diversity. No matter, accreditation or accepting competency as merit, by valuing equipment attainments for the aforementioned arena and independent education are often lacking a transparent and clear framework.

    In the meantime, the African Continental Qualifications Framework, which is an initiative of the African Union in 2019 is relevant for Africa. The UNESCO-UNEVOC encyclopedia latest edition known as TVETpedia has entered this initiative in the compilation. In a parallel fashion, the motto of “African Solutions to African Problems” is also prevalent, so is the African Continental Free Trade Area for goods and services and higher education is part of the service industry. For instance the peace deal of November 2022, following the two year bloody war in northern Ethiopia, has resulted from African Union mediation and peace deal process. As a rule of thumb, internationalization is crucial for disciplines and the curriculum thereto in Diplomatic and International Relation as well as Peace and Security. Thus, through media synthesis and the like, the aforementioned Afrocentrism in peace deal can be instrumental for education. Despite ongoing opposition and pressure by the United Nations Human Rights Commission and others working in the subject matter, Ethiopia exercises the wish for investigating war crimes as well. Understanding how this unfolds is crucial in terms of understanding leadership in standardization within and outside the education sector. Overall, starting from December 10, 2022, a yearlong celebration and promotion is being undertaken by the United Nations Human Rights Commission, in order to mark the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

    State and Non-state actors in Leadership: Transition to Higher Education and Employment

    The UNESCO policy paper on Global Education Monitoring Report was published in 2022, under the title”Non state actors in tertiary education: a shared vision for quality and affordability?” is a great contribution to knowledge. It can establish how the higher education sector is shaped, which includes transition to higher education, enhancing employability, internationalization and collaboration. In the meanwhile, quality assurance on accreditation is a point of departure for some universities and this deters collaboration. In the journal article titled “Controlling higher education from a distance: using Foucault’s governmentality to better understand accreditation” which was published in year 2022 in the journal entitled “Cogent Education”, the author Romanowski raises the debate about Foucault’s governmentality approach. To reiterate, pseudo-governments and Foucault’s governmentality occur when governing occurs not by rules and laws but through a subtle form of governance that depends on the governed engaging in self-governing through internalized habits that guide mentality and action. The approach is deemed useful in terms of quality assurance in accreditation for non-US universities, but it can also be extended to the other missions of the sector including youth transition, employability, internationalization and collaboration. By citing his previous work, this author has asserted the fact that non-US higher education programs face the influences of educational neocolonialism that engraves value systems, ideologies, and ways of thinking based on the reality of American higher education. This damages indigenous knowledge in the form of epistemicide, and accreditation prevents opposing or diverse possibilities demanding a homogeneity that suppresses innovation and diversity. In other words, the Ivory Tower dictates what constitutes knowledge and adherence to multiculturalism and decolonisation only pays off when career progression transpires.


    The recommendation is to value “what works?”. Practice, including communication style, method and medium, which upholds Organizational Behavior as a discipline, has to be valued. Notwithstanding, impactful outcomes are highly encouraged during the United Nations Decade of Action for Sustainable Development Goal, challenging the remit of the publish or perish bandwagon and the controversial altimetric of “Impact Factor”. Therefore, even seasoned researchers and thought leaders are expected to lobby and bring about policy change, by defying the Organizational Behavior of the higher education sector, or at least they ought to pave the way through meaningful collaboration and partnership with schools and vice versa. Knowledge Management is being revolutionized, by demystifying, decolonising and democratizing the narrativity paradigms, asserting omniversity and much more so that to uphold youth transition, employability, welfarism etc.


    Lul Admasachew


  4. I would like to join this consultation. Currently the education system in my country faces a critical situation under the Taliban rule. I will be interested to support you technically if and where needed.


  5. Educational leadership is the process of enlisting and guiding the talents and energies of teachers, students, and parents toward achieving common educational aims.

    Yes! Education Leadership is very important in improving learning since it address the following; Affective Qualities, Action Orientation, Monitoring and Empowering, Teaching Excellence, Research and Scholarship.


  6. Éducation et leadership
    (English translation below)
    Les recherches menées par notre réseau, composé de plus de 600 gestionnaires éducatifs d’Afrique francophone, ont démontré l’absence, dans nos systèmes scolaires, de la plupart des phases de développement identifiées par Bush (2018) dans la préparation et l’initiation au leadership. Presque tous les douze pays où nous travaillons n’ont pas de planification de la relève (à l’exception de la progression basée sur l’ancienneté), très peu ou pas de préparation à la gestion et au leadership, un recrutement basé sur l’ancienneté et les contacts politiques ou sociaux, pas de processus d’intégration et pas de développement en cours d’emploi. L’identité professionnelle et la coopération des dirigeants sont très faibles. S’ils ont acquis des compétences en gestion grâce à des études universitaires, celles-ci sont souvent négligées dans leur développement de carrière. Il existe très peu d’institutions consacrées à la formation à la gestion et au leadership, et peu d’experts sur ces sujets. Comme en témoignent certaines réunions et webinaires internationaux récents organisés par le GPE/KIX, l’UNESCO et la Banque mondiale, la plupart de la recherche et de l’innovation en leadership impliquent peu de pays francophones. Si, comme le suggèrent les recherches, le leadership est le deuxième facteur d’amélioration de l’apprentissage, pourquoi la formation des leaders fait-elle l’objet de si peu de programmes et d’investissements financiers dans nos environnements ?
    L’ODD4 propose l’objectif suivant :
    4.c D’ici à 2030, accroître considérablement le nombre d’enseignants qualifiés, notamment au moyen de la coopération internationale pour la formation d’enseignants dans les pays en développement, surtout dans les pays les moins avancés et les petits États insulaires en développement
    Nous croyons essentiel d’ajouter l’objectif correspondant pour les leaders scolaires.
    4.d D’ici à 2030, accroître considérablement le nombre de gestionnaires éducatifs qualifiés, notamment au moyen de la coopération internationale pour la formation de leaders scolaires dans les pays en développement, surtout dans les pays les moins avancés et les petits États insulaires en développement
    En 2006, nous avons assumé un leadership dans l’organisation des Assises francophones de la gestion scolaire en collaboration avec la Conférence des ministres de l’éducation des pays et gouvernements de la Francophonie (CONFEMEN), l’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) et la Banque mondiale. Nos recherches ont démontré que, quinze ans plus tard, certaines des stratégies théoriques issues de ce colloque ont été mises en œuvre, mais que les pratiques ont très peu évolué. Même lorsque des politiques, des programmes et des modules de formation ont été élaborés dans certains systèmes scolaires, la formation n’a pas été mise en œuvre.
    Une approche descendante n’était pas suffisante pour apporter le changement souhaité.
    Dans notre réseau, nous nous efforçons de promouvoir une approche ascendante, basée sur les communautés professionnelles. Nous avons récemment créé une association professionnelle internationale, qui représentera les associations professionnelles nationales émergentes dans une douzaine de pays. Étant donné que plusieurs de nos membres disposent d’un Master II en gestion des systèmes éducatifs (offert à distance par l’Université Senghor d’Alexandrie), et de compétences en ingénierie de formation, nous avons la possibilité de proposer des cours de management en ligne.
    Nous fonderons nos activités de formation sur le modèle 70-20-10, favorisant l’apprentissage par l’interaction sociale et l’expérimentation réflexive plutôt que par des cours théoriques.
    Notre approche systémique du leadership nous a convaincus que le fait de se concentrer sur des éléments isolés ne facilitera pas l’évolution du système, et c’est pourquoi notre réseau comprend des leaders de tous les niveaux d’administration.
    Plutôt que de se concentrer sur les individus, la recherche reconnaît maintenant que le leadership est une activité sociale et que la « communityship », telle que définie par Henry Mintzberg, (que nous traduisons par « communabilité » est une composante majeure du succès du leadership. Et cette communauté inclut la coopération entre les dirigeants, dans les organisations professionnelles. À l’heure actuelle, nos membres n’ont pas d’identité professionnelle, sont peu incités au développement professionnel par l’apprentissage social, sont rarement consultés et ont peu d’influence sur l’évolution de leur système. Leur leadership est confiné à leur environnement limité. Au détriment de leur système.
    Selon cette approche systémique et ascendante, nous proposons d’explorer la contribution des organisations professionnelles à l’amélioration du leadership des dirigeants éducatifs.

    English Translation
    Education and Leadership research conducted by our network, composed of more than 600 educational managers from French-speaking Africa, has demonstrated the absence, in our school systems, of most of the phases of development identified by Bush (2018) in leadership preparation and initiation. Almost all twelve countries where we work have no succession planning (with the exception of seniority-based progression), very little or no management and leadership preparation, seniority-based recruitment and political or social contacts, no integration processes and no on-the-job development. The professional identity and cooperation of leaders is very weak. While many of our members have acquired management skills through university studies, these are often overlooked in their career development. There are very few institutions dedicated to management and leadership training, and few experts on these topics. As evidenced by some recent international meetings and webinars organized by GPE/KIX, UNESCO and the World Bank, most leadership research and innovation involves few French-speaking countries. If, as research suggests, leadership is the second factor in improving learning, why is leadership training the subject of so few programs and financial investments in our environments?
    SDG4 proposes the following objective:
    4.c By 2030, substantially increase the number of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States
    We believe it is essential to add the corresponding objective for school leaders.
    4.d By 2030, substantially increase the number of qualified education managers, including through international cooperation for the training of school leaders in developing countries, especially the least developed countries and small island developing States
    In 2006, we assumed leadership in the organization of the Assises francophones de la gestion scolaire in collaboration with the Conference of Ministers of Education of the Countries and Governments of La Francophonie (CONFEMEN), the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) and the World Bank. Our research has shown that, fifteen years later, some of the theoretical strategies resulting from this conference have been implemented, but that practices have changed very little. Even where policies, curricula and training modules have been developed in some school systems, training has not been implemented.
    A top-down approach was not enough to bring about the desired change. In our network, we strive to promote a bottom-up approach, based on professional communities. We recently created an international professional association, which will represent emerging national professional associations in a dozen countries. Since many of our members have a Master II in Education Systems Management (offered remotely by Senghor University of Alexandria), and engineering skills training, we have the opportunity to offer management courses online.
    We will base our training activities on the 70-20-10 model, promoting learning through social interaction and reflective experimentation rather than theoretical courses. Our systemic approach to leadership has convinced us that focusing on isolated elements will not facilitate the evolution of the system, which is why our network includes leaders from all levels of government.
    Rather than focusing on individuals, research now recognizes that leadership is a social activity and that “communityship,” as defined by Henry Mintzberg, is a major component of leadership success. And this community includes cooperation between leaders, in professional organizations. Currently, our members have no professional identity, have little incentive for professional development through social learning, are rarely consulted and have little influence on the evolution of their system. Their leadership is confined to their limited environment. To the detriment of their system.
    Following this systemic and bottom-up approach, we propose to explore the contribution of professional organizations to improving the leadership of educational leaders.


  7. Educational leadership is crucial for the success of educational institutions and the students they serve. Educational leaders are responsible for creating a positive learning environment, developing and implementing effective educational programs, managing resources efficiently, and ensuring that students receive a high-quality education.

    Having reasonable, internationally comparable measures for how educational leadership concepts vary between countries is also essential.

    Please see recently published research papers in this area:

    Eryilmaz, N., & Sandoval-Hernandez, A. (2023). Is Distributed Leadership Universal? A Cross-Cultural, Comparative Approach across 40 Countries: An Alignment Optimisation Approach. Education Sciences, 13(2), 218. https://www.mdpi.com/2227-7102/13/2/218

    Eryilmaz, N., & Sandoval Hernandez, A. (2022). Improving cross-cultural comparability: does school leadership mean the same in different countries?. Educational Studies, 1-22. https://doi.org/10.1080/03055698.2021.2013777

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Challenges of Comparing Countries’ Educational Leadership: Organisation Behaviour and Politics

      Dear Colleagues,

      Firstly, I would like to emphasise the fact that the UNESCO paper commissioning on Educational Leadership will focus on country specific cases, amongst other competing themes and agendas. The country profiles, known as PEER, can be patchy due to lack of country specific policies and legislature. The reason is not only that but is also due to the fact that the process of compiling is meticulously laborious and complex. This is prevalent when mainstream curriculum is amiss and the multi stakeholder engagement, including actors from outside the education system have to have their say. For instance, there is a lack of mainstream comprehensive sexuality education in Ethiopia, with provisions through UN Women and others not being widespread. According to state media, namely, “The Ethiopian Herald” , which was issued on March 29,2023, the aforementioned United Nations body and other stakeholders will support the launch of “Women Can Do” media campaign on feminism especially in the public and political sphere. This can indeed enhance awareness of gender based violence which was the theme of a webinar held by Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development on March 30, 2023. The organisation has dubbed the current situation of women’s public life, specific to online political engagement as “going backwards” due to gender based violence. On another level, the UNESCO Chair for Global Health Education and UNESCO Global Education Monitoring report have been discussing the relevance of running webinar and knowledge exchanges in comprehensive sexuality education and I am still awaiting for a positive outcome since I want to be involved.

      On another level, the aforementioned newspaper has elaborated on the Ethiopian parliament question and answer session that was held on March 28, 2023. This was undertaken between the prime minister and members of parliament (MP) and the televised version of this event was over four hours, mainly revolving around peace and security issues. Another article of this newspaper has also warned about misinformation, and to be careful about which media to consume.

      During the same week, a private newspaper known as “The Reporter” published an article entitled “Universities prepare for the worst as government grants autonomy” specifically on April 1,2023. The article has discussed a draft proclamation on university autonomy, by cutting public funding and making them fend for themselves from the private sector. This policy direction affects other practices including operationalization, which changes the organisation behaviour of the public universities in Ethiopia. The Prime Minister, who is male, is supposed to appoint Chancellors, so this article has stated. In retrospect, it is important to note that the President of the country is a female and has engagement with UNESCO, whereby she led highly acclaimed reports. Besides, the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring report of 2020/21, has stated that the demarcation between state and non-state actors is a myth. Thus, relying on private newspapers, when other media is either silent or the webpage is inaccessible, may not be totally wrong.

      Fundamentally, the Pan African principle is politics, which can attract the attention of such leadership figures into multi stakeholder engagement platforms on Educational Leadership. As we look into youth transition, the second most populous country of Africa with over 110 million people, had just under 1 million students sat school leaving exams last year. The outcome is that only 3.3 percent of the almost 900,000 pupils have passed to university level, and this was dubbed as “failure as a nation”. Realistic assessment is warranted given the fact that industrialization is the main motto of agrarian economy.

      Indeed, as I have asserted in my expression of interest, further work is important. I can also be contacted for further consultation. In conclusion, even one of the consultations hereby has highlighted the difficulty of comparing nations due to cultural differences. This poses a legitimate question of validity. It is important to value the African Qualification Framework and how the actors from the education system can have a voice on matters of youth leadership, gender equality, sustainable cities and comprehensive sexuality education. Even within a nation, a diversity narrative is important. On the whole, we can not compare apples with pears since it leads to measurement error. Country representative roles which reflect diversity are crucial and due to the need to eradicate neocolonialism, UNESCO needs to be the establishment to house it.


      Lul Admasachew


  8. Dear colleagues, I offer you the summary cof the contribution we have presented to the UNESCO GEM REPORT 24/25.

    The text presents three ways in which female schools promote women’s leadership: first, by encouraging risk-taking; second, by enhancing analytical skills to facilitate decision-making; and third, by eliminating gender stereotypes. Therefore, girls become fearless, smart and genuine leaders.

    In this way, it contributes to SDG #4, education, by promoting the choice of STEM careers by women. Secondly, by promoting female leadership, it contributes to SDG #5: equality. We hope UNESCO keeps the research on such a fundamental topic as it is how single-sex schools favour female leadership.

    I. Fearless. Leaders need to take risks. However, studies indicate that girls are more critical of themselves and take fewer risks than boys. There are three factors that cause “glass ceilings” for women: (i) perfectionism, (ii) difficulty delegating, and (iii) fear of failure (Dr. Esther Giménez, International University of Catalonia). This can be exacerbated during adolescence due to fear of judgement from their male peers. The absence of male presence can encourage risk-taking, reduce the fear of failure, and thus promote female leadership. This is especially clear in two areas: first, in public speaking classes, and second, in social projects

    II. Smart. II. Smarter. Girls’ schools ease decision-making. The second key characteristic for exercising leadership is decision-making and, to do so, it is necessary to distinguish essential information from irrelevant information: academic skills and, especially in the 21st century, technological skills. “Data revealed differences in attitude to mathematics with girls in the single-sex school having the most positive attitudes and girls in the coeducation setting having the least positive attitudes” (Kester Lee and Judy Anderson, University of Sydney (2015), Gender Differences in Mathematics Attitudes in Coeducational and Single Sex Secondary Education).

    III. III. Genuine. In all-girls learning environments there are no stereotypes about what girls like or where they excel. Meryl Streep, the american actress winner of 3 Academy Awards and being nominated to 21, explained her experience in a “single-sex school” as follows:

    I got to Vassar which 43 years ago was a single-sex institution (…) and I made some quick but lifelong and challenging friends. And with their help outside of any competition for boys my brain woke up. (…) I didn’t have to pretend, I could be goofy, vehement, aggressive, and slovenly and open and funny and tough and my friends let me (…) I became real instead of an imagined stuffed bunny.” (Meryl Streep, Barnard Commencement Speaker 2010, Columbia University)

    Adolescent girls can be more free, authentic, and spontaneous in all-girls schools. We are currently more aware of the power of external expectations: “Girls as young as six can be led to believe men are inherently smarter and more talented than women, making girls less motivated to pursue novel activities or ambitious careers” (Dr. Sarah-Jane Leslie, Princeton University and Dr. Andrei Cimpian, New York University, Gender Stereotypes About Intellectual Ability Emerge Early and Influence Children’s Interests).

    In summary, girls’ schools promote women’s leadership in three ways: (1) by encouraging risk-taking, (2) by increasing the ability to make informed decisions, and (3) by eliminating stereotypes.

    Therefore, in single-sex schools girls can become fearless, smart and genuine leaders.

    Barcelona, April the 10th, 2023

    “Equal and Different” team (igualesydiferentes.edu@gmail.com)


  9. Two critical characteristics of sound 21st century education leadership:

    1) Leaders are lifelong learners, ready to learn and to re-learn, to revise cognitive biases and previous information and knowledge in the light of the new information and knowledge contributed by scientific research and by social experience.

    2) Leaders incarnate positive values and attitudes related to human rights and democratic practices, and become strong allies in the fight against all forms of intolerance and discrimination.

    Rosa Maria Torres


  10. The role of Educational Leadership cannot be overemphasised because Leaders are the head product towards the achievement of the SDG’s as it concerns education, climate and others. I am looking forward to join the consultation because the topic is of utmost interest to me.


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