Dame Pat and the origins of the leadership centre

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

As it continues to roll out initiatives and programmes based around school improvement, we look at the origins of the Centre for Education Leadership.

A week ago we had the privilege of hearing from Professor Qing Gu, Director of the Centre for Education Leadership at the UCL, Institute of Education, London about the continued success of the Centre.  She reminded us that the centre is the largest in the UK and focuses upon research, teaching, development and innovation.   

Their current research includes the evaluation of school partnership programmes, the competitive effects of free schooling in England on student outcomes in neighbouring schools, the evaluation of Research Schools in new Opportunity Areas and how schools provide spaces to improve learning and health-related quality for primary school children in rural communities in South Africa.  

Their postgraduate Masters programmes in educational leadership continue to be heavily subscribed and as we have reported recently as part of their knowledge exchange, they have commissioned a series of think pieces. The first of these, by Professor Christine Gilbert was referenced on this blog.  They also have a number of international professional programmes underway with several countries including Spain and China. 

Recently, they have become the only university-led provider of the Early Career Framework national rollout. In this, they are working with 21 teaching school hubs, building on their successful work in the pilot. This coincides with their accreditation as one of the nine national providers of the new National Professional Qualifications (NPQs). 

As Professor Qing was keen to point out, this represents a tremendous team effort during what has been a testing time.  The ECF early rollout in the north of England and national rollout are led by Sue Hellman and Jonathan Dale and the central team includes: Mark Quinn, Hilary Adli, Monika Robak, Samrah Rizvi, Lina Iordanaki, and Margaret Turner. 

All of this continuing success has given us cause to reflect upon how all this started. Dame Pat Collarbone, founder of the centre, explained that she became a headteacher in East London in 1990 and accessed a strong support programme provided by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA). However, in 1996, ILEA was abandoned and with it the provision of leadership development for much of the City.  At the time she had been doing an MBA during which she paid an inspirational visit to the Harvard Centre for School Leadership, and met Professor Roland Bath. This visit prompted her to ask what school leadership was all about and to create a similar centre in London. 

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Dame Pat contacted Professor Peter Mortimore of school improvement fame and the then Director of the IOE and suggested that they create a school leadership centre for the City, which would provide the opportunity for headteachers to meet and learn from one another about what was going on in school leadership beyond the confines of the City. He approved of the idea but with the condition that she find the funding. Ever resourceful, she convinced London First to provide the funds, at which point Peter asked her to run it. She was now in her seventh year of headship and she felt that she was ready for a new challenge and so the Centre was born. This was in January 1997. 

Initially, the centre provided a newsletter and events. However, the government of the day through the Teacher Development Agency was looking to develop a set of professional standards and programmes for the development of headteachers.  To achieve this, they invited organisations to apply to be programme delivery centres and assessment centres. The London centre was successful on both counts and so the link was made to the current success of the Centre for Educational Leadership designation as a centre for NPQs. 

In addition to this, Dame Pat with her track record as a successful headteacher and the experience she gained from her new role, became heavily involved in the research and development of this work which established the centre as provider and innovator. 

As a result, in May 1999, she was appointed to lead the development of the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH)  and later when the National College opened in Nottingham, she appointed the first director of programmes.


We are pleased to be able to introduce you to the role that Dame Pat Collarbone has played in developing school leadership and we will hear more about this in future postings. 

As Matt Ridley says, innovation can be serendipitous as in this case and relies mainly on small incremental steps rather than giant ones.  So it is with the Centre for Educational Leadership, the first of its type in England and still providing and pioneering work in that critical area for school improvement – educational leadership – today. 

Take care and stay safe.