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Leading academies: challenge and complexity: an examination and analysis of the nature and dimensions for successful leadership

Macaulay, Hilary


Hilary Macaulay


Brent, 1949 Davies


In recent years the response of the government in recognising the need for specific training for headship, albeit belatedly and against a trend in falling levels of recruitment to senior leadership positions in schools nationally, has led to serious attention being given to the issue.

In 2002 the first City Academy opened and with it a new set of senior educational leadership challenges. The central thesis of this research is that of an examination and analysis of the nature and dimensions for successful leadership of Academies bearing in mind the challenges and complexities of the task in hand. At the time of writing no specifically designed or defined programme exists to train or support those becoming or already working as Principals of Academies. The focus for this research is to investigate the leadership styles, qualities, skills and contextual dimensions which enable previously seriously underperforming schools to transform themselves under the leadership of a fast growing ‘breed’ termed Academy Principals.

At the start of this research 200 Academies were planned to be open by 2010. However the announcement by Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, in November 2006 to expand the programme to create 400 Academies further reinforces the importance of this research to investigate and report upon:
- the general, emerging prerequisites for leading a successful Academy;

- the leadership characteristics of existing effective Academy Principals;

- the strategic dimensions pertaining to leading an Academy to successful outcomes;

- the technical and operational dimensions specific to the leadership of Academies;

- the degree to which leadership autonomy contributes to pace and direction of progress;

- the key inhibitors and accelerators to successful outcomes of leadership of Academies.

The primary method of research is semi-structured interviews and case studies supported by review of literature.

The thesis is divided into five chapters. The first outlines the context and climate for creation of the Academies Programme, the key characteristics of such schools and the significance of the research in contributing to current knowledge in this field. The second chapter, through the examination and review of literature, establishes and outlines six key research elements to be further examined arising from the identified leadership dimensions pertaining to successful leadership of schools facing complexity and challenge. In doing so the conceptual framework model evolves and is introduced.

Chapter 3 examines the possible research methodologies and approaches and considers the most appropriate forms for investigating the key elements arising from the initial thesis, subsequent review of literature and establishment of the conceptual framework model. The fourth chapter discusses the research findings and analysis from the semi-structured interviews and case studies using the six elements and applying them within the conceptual framework model. Chapter 5 provides an evaluation and makes recommendations, drawing conclusions from what has been established through the research. What can be learnt from best practice and suggestions on how to proceed in successfully leading Academies, with the programme expanding at a pace, are proposed as are opportunities for further lines of research.

The thesis as a whole not only provides new information on how the challenges and complexities of leading Academies can be successfully met and supported, but also how the identification and establishment of certain leadership skills and prerequisites summarized as key elements for leadership of schools of this type can be seen as part of a larger school improvement movement to address the need to improve standards in the most challenging schools.


Macaulay, H. (2008). Leading academies: challenge and complexity: an examination and analysis of the nature and dimensions for successful leadership. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Aug 15, 2011
Publicly Available Date Feb 22, 2023
Keywords Education; Business
Public URL
Additional Information The Business School, The University of Hull
Award Date Jan 1, 2008


Thesis (1.1 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2008 Macaulay, Hilary. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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