System leadership in Australian and Swedish education: What’s social justice got to do with it?
ACCESS: Contemporary Issues in Education
Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia
School of Education
Since the start of the 21st century, education in Australia and Sweden have seen system level reform efforts change and shape both nations’ schools. In an endeavour to improve the educational outcomes of students, both countries have enacted neoliberal policies that aimed to decentralise education and provide increased autonomy for school leaders. The real-world consequences of these policies have restricted school leader autonomy and academic performance has declined while the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students has continually grown. When excellence trumps equity as the primary driver of education at the system level, it creates a disadvantage cycle which sees the development of societal status hierarchies and unjust participatory parity for particular social groups. In the current time of COVID-19, when these disadvantages are exacerbated, it is timely to evaluate educational leadership at the system level in terms of its ability to positively affect social justice issues. Social justice leadership at a system level holds the potential to unite schools in competition and empower them to help overcome the unjust reality faced by disadvantaged students. So, the focus of this piece is to provide commentary on whether system leadership can enhance education’s potential in realising a more socially just society.