Education Policy and Leadership

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Education Policy and Leadership

When educators move into an educational leadership role, they often have a clear vision of what they want to achieve and what they need to do to achieve it. Whether they are a principal, a college president or a dean of faculty, they know what they want to achieve for their students. While a vision is a key attribute of educational leaders, it is necessary to sound a note of pragmatism. Educational leaders are subject to education policy, and there may be occasions when this does not give them the freedom to act as they hope. While this can be a source of frustration, educational leaders are also realists and understand the reason why there are education policies. They also usually come to find that education policy can form a framework and within that, there is scope to realize their visions and bring the best outcomes for students.

Policymakers and policy takers

Teachers and other educational professionals who are considering the next stage of their career may be considering an educational leadership role, or they may wonder whether their skills and vision can be better utilized in influencing policies. Whichever direction they want their career to head, it is likely they will need further qualifications. For those aiming for an educational leadership role, a good option is a doctorate of education (EdD). This is different from a PhD, which is likely to be a better option for those wanting to influence policy. A PhD prepares students for a life in academia and research, conducting the studies that will influence education policies.

If you are unsure which is right for you, it is worth getting in touch with some universities to discuss your options. As taking time away from work to attend university is not always a practical option, be sure to include some of the high-quality online courses as they can be more flexible and are ideal for the working professional. For those considering the merits of EdD vs PhD, a good place to start is at Marymount University, whose staff will be happy to talk through your options to help you decide whether the best way to advance your career is through a PhD or their high-quality online doctorate in education. It cannot be said that an EdD is better than a PhD or vice versa; it is up to the student to decide which is best for them and their career ambitions.

Who makes education policy?

Exactly who makes education policy will depend very much on the country you work in. And even within that country, there are likely to be significant regional differences. In the USA, there is a federal department of education that oversees education policy and is responsible for ensuring that school practices and education laws comply with the Constitution. However, as education is not mentioned in the Constitution, the regulation and funding of education are mostly handled by local or state governments. Additionally, independent schools, assuming they have no federal funding, are not subject to federal education policy.

When looking for educational leadership positons, it is important that candidates have a thorough understanding of who is making the education policy at that particular educational establishment and whether it is likely to be compatible with the vision they hold for the education of the students there. Applying for roles in educational settings where you will be comfortable will save a lot of frustration in the long term.


One of the key elements of education is that no one person can do it all. Instead, it is a team effort between the policymakers in local, state and federal government, school staff at all levels and students. For school-age students, there is also another group to consider—the parents. One of the factors driving education policy today is that parents want a greater input. This can range from a greater choice of schools to more involvement in the school.

Like educational leaders, parents want the best for their children, and by involving them in school life, they can work together to improve the outcomes for all students attending the school. This will also give the parents a greater insight into how schools work, allowing them to see the strengths and weaknesses of the local, state or federal education policy. It is possible that some of those parents are part of the department that creates policy and allowing them to see the results of the policies in action will be highly valuable for them and may influence how those policies develop.

Tailor-made policies

Education policy is broad and can never take into account every single factor of every single school. For this reason, educational leaders need to be on top of education policy and have a thorough understanding of the implications for their setting. They are then better able to see how the education policy can work for them.

Factors to consider are the age of the students at their educational establishment. They can then see the legislation put in place for students of that age and consider how best to implement it for the benefit of their place of learning.

They should also consider what makes their school or college unique and any needs particular to their workplace. Perhaps they have a large proportion of students from an economically deprived background or work in an area that has traditionally been low-achieving. Maybe they have a high proportion of students with special educational needs or come from an ethnically diverse background, perhaps with English as a second language. They will then need to know the implications of education policy on them. Perhaps education departments have additional funding for certain groups that they can take advantage of, helping students from those groups flourish in their schools. This funding can be used to recruit additional teachers, give additional training to existing staff or purchase technical equipment, programs or outdoor equipment that can aid the different groups according to their diverse needs.

Educational policymakers create a policy that is supposed to work for everyone. But only the educational leaders at a particular establishment can see how it will work for them. By tailoring the local, state or federal policy for their school, they can help raise standards and student wellbeing, creating a better educational setting for all.

Adapting the vision

Educational leaders will have a vision of the direction they want for their school and a clear idea of how to achieve it. Through a comprehensive understanding of the education policy of their area, they should be able to see where their vision fits with the policies. While they may need to adapt some of their ideas and compromise if necessary, it is also possible that the policy will enhance their vision and provide steps that make it even easier to realize their goals.

It is important to remember that policymakers are not the enemy, nor should they be dismissed as being too distant from education to know what is best. Their policy is driven by educational research and studies, and many of the policymakers will have a background in education, allowing them to understand the implications of their policies. Other policymakers may be politicians, and politicians are certainly involved at some stage in the policymaking process. But politicians as much as anyone else have a vested interest in making policies that will improve standards as this is something they can highlight when up for re-election.

Give feedback

Everyone has opinions on education policy, but as an educational leader, your opinion could carry some weight and your feedback can influence policy. First, of course, policies have to be implemented, and as an educational leader, it is important that you try to make them work. However, once the policies have been in place for a while, it is time to report on how they are working, both the advantages the policy has brought and the areas where it has fallen short.

Influencing policy at the deferral or state level is not easy, but at the local level, it is a different matter. Local-level policies may have the most impact on your educational setting and are where your voice will carry the most weight. Deliver feedback or ask questions of your local school boards; consider becoming a member of a school board yourself. At the time of local elections, take the time to ask questions of the candidates so they can understand what educational leaders are looking for.

Involve students

At all levels of education, students form the largest single group in education. There are more students than teachers, and many more students than educational leaders. Yet students tend to be the ones given the fewest opportunities to give their views of education policy. However, the idea of students as the passive receivers of education is changing, and initiatives are appearing to give students more of a voice. For example, some state education boards have student members, although they frequently do not have a vote.

Educational leaders are in a position to increase the input of students in their educational settings. As the users, students have their own unique view of education, which is different to everyone else involved. Educational leaders are able to set up a student council, for example, or groups for different aspects of education. A lot depends on the age of the students and the size of the school, but even quite young children may have ideas of how they think education should be, and it is well worth listening to them.

With older children, there is the chance to demonstrate to them how education policy is implemented and then listen to their opinions on how it works. They may have ideas of their own as to how educational policy can be used to enhance the learning experience of the school. Students can also provide feedback that can be reported to school boards or be used to influence curriculum developers and technology firms to make advances that will be useful to teachers and students alike.

Implementing new policies

There is always concern that when new policies are introduced, there will be a lot of additional work for the educational leader and their staff. However, this does not have to be the case. The most crucial step an educational leader can take is to thoroughly understand the policy and consider how it can be best implemented in the school or other learning establishments. How much change it will cause will depend on how relevant the policy is for the school. A policy, for example, focusing on early years will have little impact in a high school or college.

When deciding how to implement it, educational leaders should find a way that advantages their workplace. Particularly, they should check if there are any sources of funding they can access or training that their staff can attend.

If the policy does appear to go against their vision for the school, they need to decide whether that is necessarily a bad thing. Change can be difficult, and most of us are guilty of clinging to tried and tested ways of teaching when there may be a better one. By keeping an open mind, they may well find that they can use the new policies to build on their own ideas.

Keeping records and getting feedback from their own observations as well as those of other staff and students are important for monitoring how the policy is working. And if as an educational leader, you are prepared to give fair and honest feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of a policy, your impact on education policy may go beyond that of your own educational setting.

Educational policies are generally developed as a result of studies and are motivated by the wish to improve education for all. By working with these policies, educational leaders increase their ability to improve the standard and experience of their educational setting for the better.