School leaders play a central role in affecting the educational development of the young people for whom they have responsibility. This is especially the case where school leaders are operating in challenging low-income environments. This paper argues that a focus on Sen’s notions of individual agency and freedom are a necessary but not a sufficient factor in the conversion of capabilities into functionings for these school leaders. This is done through using the Capabilities Approach as a lens through which to carry out a retrospective analysis and evaluation of the activities of a group of primary school headteachers in Ghana involved in a UK Government-funded project focused on education quality. The paper argues that headteachers with the capability of initiating change in the education process in their schools are unlikely to act in this way unless they feel that they have permission to do so. It is also important that headteachers feel that they are working within a context and an environment where acting in ways which aim to improve pupil learning is seen as central to their role. This kind of supportive context for school leaders (and for other educational practitioners) cannot be divorced from a policy environment which sanctions such activities, and, hence, it is argued that such a context is crucial to policy developments which seek to establish and sustain the core capabilities which are at the heart of Nussbaum’s essentialist approach. The paper also brings to the foreground the tensions that exist between the notion of individuals being free to make choices about what they have reason to value, on the one hand, and the implications that these choices have for the freedoms of other individuals with whom they are connected to make such choices. Finally, it is argued in the paper that the action research approach used in the Leadership & Management Project in Ghana, allied to a positive policy context, provides both the sensitivity to context and a practice-oriented focus which can enable school leaders to bring about the conversion of their individual capabilities into functionings.
- school improvement