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Professional development and support of middle and senior leadership roles for non-teachers in educational settings

  • School: School of Social Sciences
  • Study mode(s): Full-time / Part-time
  • Starting: 2022
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Self-funded


The purpose of this research is to look at the relationship between leadership theory, policy reform and practice in educational settings in England. This will certainly include maintained schools, academies and multi-academy trust, but may extend to early years, FE and HE settings. The aim is to offer a way of understanding the demands of middle leadership, and the way that non-teaching colleagues are prepared for this. There is the potential to inform policy developments to help future generations to develop the capabilities needed to lead in inter-professional, inter-agency environments (Connolly, et al., 2019). For this study, middle leaders or aspiring leaders might include teaching assistants, administrative staff, bursars, laboratory technicians, IT technicians, site managers, canteen managers and others.

Since the introduction of the National Professional Qualification in headship (NPQH) in 1997 England has seen several policy developments, which at one stage included a National Professional Qualification in Middle Leadership (NPQML), now, non-existent. National College qualifications for bursars and other support staff were also short-lived. These offered a major step towards professionalising school leadership, but the new NPQs are highly specific, leaving a vacuum of nationally accredited support for middle leaders, whether they are teachers or support staff. This is in stark contrast to the notion that middle leaders are the driving force of schools.

The concept of distributed leadership can be used as both a leadership model and an analytical lens (Bush, 2019). The rationale for this model is that leadership is too complex to be handled purely through solo leadership. Increasing leadership density by empowering more leaders generates the potential for enhanced learning outcomes (Sood et al, 2018). Distributed leadership is one of several models which stress shared approaches to leadership (Mistry and Sood, 2017).

A multiple case study design would use semi-structured interviews to explore the experiences of middle leaders and the policies set by headteachers, alongside documentary analysis of local and national policy. Ethical procedures will be followed according to NTU’s policies and BERA (2018) guidelines. The findings will be organised and analysed thematically, using these research questions:

RQ1. Which leadership theories best support the observed models of non-teaching middle leaders?

RQ2. How, and to what extent, is distributed leadership practised in educational settings?

RQ3. What combination of leadership practices and behaviours best supports educational    improvements?

The vision of the Institute of Education at NTU is to be a distinctive world-class provider of teacher education and the study of education, rooted in and serving communities and families and founded in partnerships which are research-based and student-centred.

The project aligns with the work of the Centre for Behavioural Research methods and the Nottingham Centre for Children, Young People & Families.

Potential Supervisory Team:

Director of Studies: Dr. Krishan Sood

Co-supervisor: Dr. Chris Rolph

Co-supervisor: Dr. Andy Clapham

Application Deadline

Thursday 23 June 2022 at 9 am

Interview details

Interviews will take place on the following dates:

Between 9 July – 15 August 2022.

Entry qualifications

Entrants should normally hold a first or upper second class honours degree of a UK university or an equivalent qualification, or a lower second class honours degree with a master’s degree at Merit level (or equivalent) of a UK university or an equivalent qualification.

An applicant not meeting the certificated requirement may be considered on merit and in relation to the nature and scope of the proposed programme of study. Applicants are considered against evidence of ability and background knowledge in relation to the proposed research. Professional experience, publications, written reports or other appropriate evidence of accomplishment are taken into consideration.

How to apply

For a step-by-step guide to make an application, please visit our how to apply page.

Fees and funding

This is a self-funded PhD project. Applicants are welcome to contact project leaders to discuss potential funding opportunities.

Guidance and support

Further guidance and support on how to apply can be found on our apply page.

Still need help?

Dr Krishan Sood