Leadership in Education: Hierarchy and Leadership Styles

May 13, 2024
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Understanding the impact of effective leadership in education is important knowledge for anyone who works in an education setting, including all school staff and school leaders. In this article, we’ll look at why a clear hierarchy of leadership is essential for schools, why finding the right type of leadership style is important for both the success of the education system and the teachers within it, and provide some simple tips for how you can achieve effective school leadership and management in your setting.

teachers in a school

What is School Leadership?

Strong leadership in education is vital for ensuring your school succeeds. Having an effective leadership team in place means your education setting is cohesive and consistent when it comes to supporting both students and teachers – everyone knows who has responsibility for what and who to speak to if they have a concern.

Your school leadership team will likely consist of a variety of job roles, including a headteacher, assistant head, department leaders, SENCOs and teaching staff, for example. It’s important to note, however, that not all leadership teams are the same and there’s no fixed hierarchy. Instead, your school leadership team should reflect the needs of your particular school and its pupils.
Successful leadership in education is the key to a positive school culture. When performed well, a leadership team can transform your school, improve ratings and inspire staff and students alike. The approach you take to your leadership style in education is therefore crucial.

Hierarchy in Education

A school hierarchy refers to the line of authority from the most authoritative person – the headteacher – down through every job role in your school. The best hierarchy in education is one where this line of authority is clear, so everyone knows exactly who they report to.

Whilst each individual school will have its own leadership team and may have different roles in its hierarchy depending on its particular needs, there is a typical hierarchy in education that many schools follow. The roles included in the school hierarchy will also be different if your school is part of a multi-academy trust.

 A simple hierarchy in education would be:

  1. The headteacher or principal
  2. Deputy/assistant heads
  3. Heads of department
  4. SENCOs
  5. Classroom teachers
  6. Teaching assistants
a teacher in class with students

Importance of School Leadership

There are many positives of having a transparent school hierarchy and a strong leadership team in place:

Good school leadership makes your school more efficient to run, because everyone knows where they belong and what their professional responsibilities are. This helps to prevent misunderstandings and encourages conversation between staff members.

A competent school leadership team further helps members of staff to work together. If they are understanding of each others’ responsibilities, this makes them more appreciative of each others’ skills and capabilities, in turn increasing respect between job roles. If your school leadership team can bring leaders with different mindsets and skills together, and there is mutual respect for these differences, then your team and your school will thrive.

Not only does leadership in education help the teachers in your setting, but it also benefits the students, too. A harmonious leadership team generates positive energy and pupils will have trust in those that teach them. As a result, students will be more likely to engage positively with their elders and will easily be able to identify who they should speak to if they have a problem, as there is a clear hierarchy and reporting line in place.
Furthermore, strong school leadership makes behaviour management more effective for teachers within the classroom. If there is a problem in the classroom, the teacher knows exactly who they should contact for further help and support. For example, it might be that the classroom teacher reports to their head of department, who then reports to their head of year if the issue cannot be resolved. This clear escalation structure ensures consistency and reliability for both students and teachers.

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To support those who work in education, we offer a range of CPD Courses for Teaching and Education. This includes Leadership and Management and Coaching and Mentoring.

Leadership Styles in Schools

It’s important to recognise that there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to school leadership and there are many different leadership styles to follow. The style of leadership you choose will depend on your personality, your values, your experience and the needs of your school – you might adhere strictly to one particular leadership style or you might pick and choose bits from several. What’s important to note is that your leadership style is unique to you.

A teacher leading a class discussion

Below are six different leadership styles in schools. When selecting a school leadership style, consider which style works best for you and which works best for your school.

  1. Instructional leadership

Instructional leadership is an authoritative leadership style and involves the leader establishing targets for teaching staff and then guiding and inspiring them to achieve the goals. It often focuses on improving teaching quality to ensure students get the most out of their education. An instructional leader is seen as a mentor who guides team members and encourages them to achieve common goals.

  1. Coaching leadership

Coaching leadership focuses on the needs of the team by identifying people’s strengths and weaknesses. It is most effective for the long-term development of the leadership team. Coaching leadership helps teachers to become more self-aware, recognise their strengths and develop them further, as leaders who follow this leadership style are committed to getting the best out of each individual through clear direction and support.

  1. Emotional Leadership

Emotional leadership is a leadership style based on emotional intelligence. An emotional leader recognises what motivates staff members and uses this to help them develop their skills. It takes the focus away from ticking boxes in order to progress and instead focuses on how teachers feel, and how these feelings can be used to enhance their strengths and improve on their weaknesses.

  1. Democratic leadership

A democratic leader makes or approves the final decision but encourages all teaching staff to share their opinions and contribute towards discussions. Democratic leadership enables teachers to talk about their problems and collaborate to find a solution, instead of relying on the most authoritative person to solve the issues alone. A democratic leadership style can help to improve communication and teamwork amongst the school leadership team.

  1. Constructive leadership

Constructive leadership aims to empower staff members and build their confidence by encouraging them to solve their own problems. This leadership style requires teachers to talk with each other to share ideas and then collaborate to reach a solution. The leader is simply there to provide guidance and support where needed.

  1. Transformational leadership

Transformational leadership is focused on influencing and inspiring. A transformational leader leads by example and acts as a role model for staff, encouraging staff members to ‘do as they do’ in order to deliver positive change. In a school, this type of leader works with teachers to identify what needs to improve and then creates an inspiring vision to resolve it. Transformational leadership gives a leadership team a strong sense of purpose and direction.

How to Achieve Effective School Leadership and Management

To achieve effective school leadership, you should look to identify which leadership style you should adopt. Are you more of an emotional leader or a democratic one? To help identify your school leadership style, be sure to consider:

  • What you want to achieve as a school leader.
  • Your personality and which style suits you best.
  • How you currently lead a team and which style you currently use.
  • What you’d like to change about your current style.
  • Which style would fit best with the staff you lead.
  • Whether different styles are better for different situations.

Keep in mind that you may not want to choose one leadership style and stick to it – you may need to adapt your style depending on the situation, so always be flexible. It’s also possible to pick and choose qualities from different leadership styles to create your own, unique style if none of the categories feel quite right for you or your school.
What’s most important for your school leadership style is consistency. No matter how you choose to lead, your educational setting will benefit from a consistent approach where staff members know what to expect, how to contribute and what their responsibilities are.

teachers discussing together

Having a strong and effective leadership team in your education setting is crucial for a positive school environment, as it helps your school, your staff and your pupils to feel united. Adopting an appropriate leadership style in education also inspires staff members to work together and respect each other, which in turn generates trust with students and ensures they get the most out of their education.

Further Resources