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Middle Leadership Blog Series Theory Post 1

What educational model are you 'sandwiched' within?

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Who is this blog post for: Current or emerging middle leaders and for senior leaders or Headteachers who are developing middle leaders.

Author:  Lisa Ramshaw 

Posted on: 24th March 2023

Keywords: model; transformative; formal; collegial; political; subjective; ambiguity; cultural; goals; organisational structure


This blog post shares a range of theoretical models that may help you recognise how your school or your educational organisation is structured and led.

Tony Bush is a leading educational theorist*, and he writes, “if practitioners shun theory, then they must rely on experience as a guide to action” (2020, p.20). As stated in the introduction to this blog series, we would like to create links between the theory, research, practice and reflection of leadership, whilst effectively utilizing case studies as an experiential component. 

In the first reflection post of this series, it was prefaced that the two layers of the hierarchical structure can pull a middle leader in many directions; however, not all structures within an educational setting follow a particularly hierarchical model. This article aims to present six different theoretical models of educational management by Bush (2020), in order to provide different ways of viewing your institutional structure. Bush (2020, p.22) claims that “each theory has something to offer in explaining behaviour and events in educational institutions”.  

Recently, I facilitated a seminar that focused on these educational models and a school leader said to me - “I understand my own institution and how things work but an understanding of these models has now allowed me to put a ‘name’ to it and therefore understand the school structures and processes more deeply than I did before. I also now know the educational model I would like the institution to move toward. I feel like I have clarity on the institution’s development now”. 

So, let’s look at these models in more detail. In his book, Bush (2020) explains six educational models. Click the title below to view a summary of each model. 

Now let’s reflect on each model a little more closely. The table in the drop-down section below sets out a number of reflective questions so that you can consider what model or models are most applicable within your context.

There is no hard and fast rule that only one model can be applicable to a particular context: there may be a combination of different models evident at any one time, based on the nature of the task or activity, so bear this in mind as you work through the reflective questions.  

Depending on how you answered the reflective questions above, you may feel that your institutional structure exemplifies more than one model. For example, you may feel that your institution has a hierarchical structure; however, there are tasks and teams that work together in a collegial way. 

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Figure 3: Formal and Collegial models combined.

As stated in the first reflection post of this series, middle leaders are often opportunistically positioned, or ‘sandwiched’, to be able to listen up, down, across or through the organisational model, in order to effectively implement, and this position could also allow middle leaders to influence and contribute to the wider goals and vision. How a middle leader capitalises on this opportunity could prove beneficial to the setting of more phase and subject-specific goals so that they positively impact change.    

*At the time of writing this blog post, Tony Bush is a Professor of Educational Leadership at Nottingham, with responsibilities in the UK and Malaysia. He is President and a Council member of the British Educational Leadership Society (BELMAS) and has been the editor of the SSCI-listed international journal, Educational Management, Administration and Leadership (EMAL) since 2002. His previous experience includes professorial appointments at the universities of Leicester, Reading, Lincoln and Warwick. He was presented with the BELMAS Distinguished Service Award in 2008 and appointed as a Fellow of the Commonwealth Council for Educational Administration and Management (CCEAM) in the same year. He has been a consultant, external examiner, invited keynote speaker and research director in 23 countries, and has also authored a number of his own books focusing on educational leadership. 


  • Bush, T. (2020) Theories of Educational Leadership and Management, London: Sage.