Carnegie Education

Does supervision help school leaders during the pandemic? A new research question

As the DfE provides guidance for schools to open their doors to selected year groups, and at a time when worries about the trajectory of the pandemic are still very real some headteachers and senior leaders are using supervision as a way of reflecting on and rehearsing complex decisions that are being made.  

The role of supervision in education is described by the National Hub for Supervision in Education as ‘focused on providing support/training for teachers and educators whose role involves supporting children and young people with issues affecting their well-being/mental health such stress or anxiety’. So, it is interesting to ask the question ‘Can supervision help school leaders during the pandemic?’ We have therefore gained ethical approval for a new CollectivED research project. The research is an exploratory study into the role of, and approaches to, supervision of school leaders during the Covid-19 pandemic.  It aims to explore how supervision for school leaders have been adopted, modified and experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic.  The purpose of the study is to understand the extent to which specialist supervision was able to provide flexible support in an emergency situation, when the challenges faced by school leaders are both unprecedented and fluid.

The research will investigate the impacts of supervision as perceived by participants (both senior leaders and supervisors).  It is framed around five questions which will allow us to find out about the patterns of and role of supervision for senior leaders in education during the pandemic. 
1. Has the Covid-19 2020 pandemic altered education sector senior leaders’ engagement in supervision, and if so, are there any discernible patterns or trends? 
2. How have supervisors responded to the emergent needs of senior leaders during the pandemic?
3. What value do senior leaders place on the supervision they have engaged in during the pandemic?
4. Have supervisors and senior leaders experienced any significant challenges with regards to supervision during the pandemic?
5. What do the supervision sessions and reflections on them reveal about how education is being re-considered and re-imagined for the post-pandemic period?

This research is necessarily opportunistic and will provide a snapshot of supervision practices and experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic as an extreme example of a global challenge facing education. Participation in this research is voluntary.  If you have engaged in supervision as a leader or supervisor during this time you are welcome to take part. Evidence will be sought from the UK, and internationally. Two online surveys are now open and will be kept open until the end of July. One survey can be completed by senior leaders in education who have engaged in supervision during the pandemic. This can be found here for completion The other survey can be completed by supervisors who have provided supervision to senior leaders during the pandemic. This can be found here for completion Follow-up telephone interviews will be conducted for a sample of volunteers.  

The research is led by Professor Rachel Lofthouse, who can be contacted at Please do get in touch if you would like to participate, or just click on the appropriate survey link to take part.
While we very much hope that Covid-19 is a once in a lifetime event we do appreciate that schools cannot be divorced from the world around them.  Trying to function through emergencies and manage trauma are not unique to the pandemic.  We hope that our research can provide additional insight into how school leaders can be best supported when the world around them creates disruptions and challenges.  

Professor Rachel Lofthouse

Professor / Carnegie School Of Education

Rachel Lofthouse is Professor of Teacher Education in the Carnegie School of Education. She has a specific research interest in professional learning, exploring how teachers learn and how they can be supported to put that learning into practice.

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