Comparative analysis of leadership in Chinese, international and bilingual schools

The research project aims to undertake a comparative analysis of leadership in Chinese, bilingual and international schools. The methodology comprised a initial literature review of school leadership from a Chinese and international perspectives. The literature review will then be used to identify consistent features of school leadership that can form the basis of leadership framework. Subsequent interviews with school leaders and principals will provide insight as to how the leadership features are applied in a range of schools. The product was a leadership framework that structured around the following characteristics of leadership:

  • Culture and vision
  • Leadership of people; structures
  • Monitoring of standards and quality
  • Learning
  • Professional learning
  • Community

The framework was used as a means of evaluating leadership across schools in Shanghai.

The next phase of the methodology comprised undertaking structured interviews with a range of head teachers and principals across Chinese, bilingual and international schools. The questions were consistent across interviews to support reliability. Findings from interviews were positioned against the framework for each of the 6 features.

Initial findings:

  • The framework proved an effective tools for evaluating leadership in Chinese and international school contexts
  • Vision and culture is most often linked to the heritage of the school in the Chinese system, whilst in international schools they are driven by school leader(s). Much greater central influence in Chinese system reflecting local and national strategy, but more autonomy in international school.
  • Leadership structure are hierarchical in Chinese schools but more distributed in international. High performing Chinese schools distribute leadership akin to international schools and also employ succession planning.
  • Monitoring is responsibility of school leaders in international, who are held to account for knowing standards and responsible to raising them. In Chinese schools, monitoring is typically centrally led by the district bureau but affirmed by leaders. Bureau inspectors provide guidance to headmaster on standards. Strategy is defined by MoE and localised by district bureau.
  • Greater autonomy for leading learning in international schools, who are responsible for implementing curriculum and developing it. Curriculum defined centrally in the Chinese system; although high performing schools do take control of pupil experience and the ‘how’ of learning
  • Professional learning centrally driven by local bureau in Chinese system. Locally driven in international schools, often linked to strategic plans.
  • Leadership of community differs between Chinese and international schools. Parent are positioned as consumers in international, where leaders typically model openness and engagement. In Chinese schools, more superficial engagement.
  • High performing Chinese and international schools display similarity in leadership characteristic
  • Identify that variance in leadership characteristics was greatest in bilingual schools.

Thus, excellence in in schools seems to be underpinned by similar approaches to the features within the framework.

Next steps:

  • Continue to broaden the interview sample
  • Extend to vice principals and deputies in order to gather information from a more operational perspective
  • Establish exemplars of practice from schools for various positions within the framework.

Implications for Chinese, international and bilingual schools in Shanghai will be shared as part of Institute of Learning workshops and conferences across 2019-20.