Leadership and Scholarship in Education

I almost dismissed this email as junk and probably would have done if it had arrived on a busy weekday. Intriguingly, it said it was a copy of a message that I hadn’t sent and, at first glance, it seemed to be from Janet Agnes Cockerill – who died several years ago – but the link between scholarship and leadership in education caught my attention.

Odd email

The email interested me for a couple of reasons.


I was drawn to the email’s proposition that educational leaders and academics, “seem to be too busy to develop their own scholarship”. After all, shouldn’t educational leaders exude enthusiasm and hunger for learning? Shouldn’t they empathise with students experiencing the challenges and fulfillment of incorporating academic learning into the rest of their busy lives? Has increasing preoccupation with managing budgets, resources, HR, PR, outcomes, impact and marketing systematically eroded time for our own intellectual development?

If so, does it matter? What implications might it have for the quality of teaching, learning and assessment and how our organisations set a tone for education that motivates students and kindles a passion for learning?

This might be an extension of the debate about differences between leadership and management but it’s a profound question and has implications for the quality and qualities of education. Does the commodification of education improve its real worth?

Even the language we use is significant.

The first meaning of scholarship is academic study with a high level of learning or achievement but it has also come to mean a grant or payment made to support a student’s education, awarded on the basis of academic or other achievement.

Is it inevitable that discussion about education is always likely to prioritise its link with money rather than its inherent quality and its ability to challenge and inspire students who can to contribute to an educated (and ultimately more prosperous!) society of people with an appetite for learning and development?

Janet Cockerill

Another of the email’s attractions was a link to an online Guardian obituary for Janet Cockerill from 2006. You can read it here. The obituary describes her as an, “Educationalist and provider of a fresh start for many women”. Here is an extract from the article.

Janet Cockerill, former principal of Hillcroft College for Mature Women, who has died aged 83, changed the lives of hundreds of women in need of self-confidence, education and a fresh start. She had left her job as a radio producer at the BBC in 1964 to go to Hillcroft, in Surbiton, south-west London. For 18 years, until her retirement in 1982, she fought many battles for this rare women-only member of the small group of Ruskin-style colleges that offered residential courses to adults without formal educational qualifications.

Given this summary, I wasn’t surprised to read that she had been a tutor and later a tutor organiser for the WEA during her distinguished career.

It sounds as if Janet Cockerill valued scholarship greatly. Of course, she was an educational leader in a different time – pre-internet and email, pre-online spreadsheets and databases – when we still had vibrant university extra-mural departments and when scholarship was respected for its own sake. Has that particular -ship sailed now?

A response?

The extract from the email copied above includes this appeal:

If you would like to help, please consider holding a series of educational events in the coming calendar year. Could you try?

The email concluded:

A hypocritical smile is not the way out; perhaps only by more sharing in person will future human beings develop much better as individuals as well as professionals. Thanks for your consideration!

How would you respond to the email?