Dr. Alexander Gardner-McTaggart,
Manchester Institute of Education, School of Environment Education and Development, Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester

I have taught, administered and researched internationally since the mid 1990’s. I have done this in many contexts and environments, from the democratic, fair and equitable, to the authoritarian, corrupt, and unjust. The experiences of this chosen pathway in life drive my enduring interest in matters of leadership, management and administration in education. I explore how educators can improve the experience of teaching and learning, but centrally, I am concerned with how those with responsibility make education work for students and teachers, rather than non-educational ‘experts’. I am interested in the social practice of leading schools; about the moral and ethical gravity of organising education, and about putting educational matters front and centre in its leadership.

In short, my research into international educational leadership seeks to better understand globalising education and its leadership through the lens of equity, distinction and power. To date, my research has drawn upon a close understanding of the context of international schools. My research also sits in the emancipatory knowledge domain, and so, unlike much knowledge generation in this sector, my analysis usually sits in the critical paradigm. This means that I do not accept the status quo as a given and work on the technical and functional issues that arise, instead I look at,- and comment on,- how power structures operate: through whom, in what and for whom.

My research has been the first to explore IB international schools’ directors. It seeks to understand the character of leadership and not just the characteristics. Leadership in this context is characterised by transition and change, but also by instrumental pressures that may seem absurd or outlandish in other schools’ contexts. For example, the influence of the international schools’ board is often cited as one of the most debilitating external and non-educational forces that stymies international schooling. Another is the extreme frequency with which staff rotate, in a context where the very essence of education (compromise, risk and learning/failure) can be avoided, and staff vote with their feet.

I joined the Manchester Institute of Education as lecturer in educational leadership, from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst where I was senior lecturer in leadership in the department of Communication and Applied Behavioural Sciences. Prior to this I was embedded as a teacher and middle manager of an IB international school for the five year duration of my research into its leadership. This allowed me to gain rare insight into what it is to be a teacher and teacher leader in this context, whilst researching IB senior leadership in six high prestige schools in (at the time a distant) Western Europe.

My PhD on international educational leadership at the University of Nottingham was supervised by Professors Tony Bush and Howard Stevenson. My current work at the University of Manchester as lecturer includes being course director of the Masters in Educational Leadership in Practice (ELiP). This masters degree is unique in developing unique critical ability in leadership, face to face and online with a international educational leadership as a key feature. It builds from practical ‘doing leadership’, to develop and foster an intellectual and critical competency required to engage and prevail at the level of policy. My research interests are in globalising and international educational leadership in autonomous schools, nurseries and colleges. I am a very active member of the British Educational Leadership Management Administration Society (BELMAS), and in particular of its Research Interest Group Critical Educational Policy (CEP). I count myself as very lucky to be mentored at Manchester by Professor Helen Gunter on forthcoming research into career progression in international schools. My published work is known for addressing issues of elitism and global citizenship in international schools, but also on leadership in this context notably the operationalisation of the IB Learner Profile, the pervasiveness of the ‘Anglo’ and Christianity and the effects of the international ‘gaze’.  My current publishing projects range from addressing the ideological privatising trends in educational leadership, to Whiteness in international schools, to an empirical review of research in IB international schools.

In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person–Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates–ask them five questions: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?” If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.

Tony Benn



Leadership in International Schools: Empowered or Managerial; Just or Justifiable?

Global Citizenship Education (GCE) as Leadership Discourse.

This presentation explores educational leadership for international schools as being in a crisis of identity, unsure whether it is empowered or managerial – just or justifiable. It is a call to action to bigger thinking. It presents Global Citizenship Education (GCE) as a ‘Leitbild’ for leadership discourse in the international and globalising sphere. It shows how pragmatic thinking patterns pervade and impoverish educational (leadership) discourse and. practice. It presents another way for international schools’ leadership based upon intellectual independence and empowerment.

Teachers and teacher leaders in international schools usually enjoy higher levels of autonomy than their counterparts in state education. Yet, increased freedom, requires increased capacity, critical ability and confidence. Most if not all teachers and leaders have spent their formative years in national and state contexts which are defined by the philosophy of reduction, standardisation and limitation. This philosophy is naturally accompanied by the functional thinking of pragmatism. For the last 30 years, state educational systems around the world have followed liberalising US and UK policy initiatives. This means they are embroiled in an ideological drive to standardize education and focus upon STEM subjects with its perceived job capital. Knowledge generation of administration and leadership in this context is firmly US (and UK) centric in nature and characterized by business forms of adjectival leadership. As the nation-state divests itself of public ways of thinking, state policy is continually pushing privatising initiatives in public spaces that redefine concepts of democracy and citizenship.

In the midst of this, international schools now educate over five million students worldwide with over 500,000 staff. This is comparable to the educational system of a medium to large-sized country. Whilst such schools are defined by privilege, their staff emerges from a context that very often, is not.

Contrary to the mounting intellectual and fiscal impoverishment of state education, international schools are experiencing a boom. In the face of a stark arbitrary and functional educational reality in national contexts, international schools offer ways of thinking and being that move from the interpersonal into the emancipatory, engaging with the arts, humanities and even physical education, seeking for distinction through broad-mindedness and intellectualism. This boom is in fact a Renaissance in dark time. It places emphasis upon a rounded education; where success is equated to balance, and where collaboration and collegiality are key.

How then do international teachers and educators emancipate themselves from the imprint of stark realities form their national educational systems? How can they continue their own development and learning to fall in line with the emancipatory thinking of GCE and escape the imprint of standards, numbers and directives? Most crucially of all, how can leadership systematically foster GCE in word and deed?  How can leadership defend staff and students from functional thinking, whilst advocating for the critical competency required for the mounting challenges of the 21st Century?

This presentation embarks on a journey to explore the challenges facing the generations of influencers attending international schools. It shows how international schools are strong potential havens of educational lucidity and abundance. It presents findings on how capacity is lost due to embedded ways of thinking and doing that are out of synch with GCE. It presents an alternative for International Educational Leadership that is stronger, bolder and more empowering.


Deep Dive Workshop

1. Global Citizenship Education and the Rise of the South

As the global South continues to grow, and middle classes increase, the demand for distinct forms of education has never been higher. Where for some this presents a valuable market opportunity, for others it signifies a chance to make the world a better place. What role do globalising middle classes play as influencers in international dialogue, and how can international schools empower future world leaders with the values and agency to overcome climate change, inequity, and the rich, old, white men, without replacing them with rich, old, international men?

This session will explore our professional identities as educators in a world in flux. How do we manage the advantages and rigours of international teaching and what happens to our ‘blue sky thinking’ when the rubber hits the road? How do we as educators manifest and how is our professional identity moulded in this changing landscape.


2 GCE: Leading the world through change and bringing it home.

This session moves on to interrogate leadership in the 21st Century and what it means to lead in a world dominated by a very distinct few. For most leadership specialists, the moral aspect is pivotal to leading people, yet ethical frameworks can vary according to cultural factors especially in international education. This sector is characterised by change and transition, yet good education requires stability and longevity. Drawing on my work at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, I examine ethics in leadership, and then pick apart GCE looking at how this outlook can provide the foundations for stable leadership in a world in flux. I examine what makes a good leader specifically in education, and how notions of GCE are now beginning to have a poignant reverse percolation effect for educators wishing to re-engage with national education, as they return home – be it now, or in a decade.


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