A systematic review of research into Executive Headship, 2001-2021

Andy Coleman

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While extensive understanding of headship has emerged over the last half-century, the notion of executive headship remains under-explored. This article summarizes a systematic review of evidence relating to executive headship published since 2001. This review found the overwhelming majority of peer-reviewed articles into executive headship are small-scale or largely theoretical in nature. Meanwhile, the few larger-scale studies completed have generally been published directly by their commissioning body. Consequently, much is known about the policy and philosophical drivers behind the emergence of this role in English schools, but markedly less on its operationalization in practice. Furthermore, while few attempts have been made to assess the prevalence of this role, there is nevertheless some evidence (albeit limited) that executive headship can positively impact on organizational effectiveness and pupil outcomes. This article recommends that further research be undertaken into understanding how the role is performed in practice, its strengths and limitations, implications for governance, the characteristics it demands of leaders in practice and the support they require. Furthermore, parallels between this and similar roles in other countries (such as superintendents in the US) should also be examined to identify further lessons on how executive headship can best be utilized both strategically and operationally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)(In-press)
Number of pages16
JournalEducational Management Administration and Leadership
Early online date27 Oct 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage).


  • Executive headship
  • ederations
  • ulti-academy trusts
  • ulti-academy trusts chief executive officers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Strategy and Management


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