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Establishing a student careers team: A case study of distributed leadership

Written by: Stephanie Burke
4 min read
Stephanie Burke, Director of Studies, Gad’s Hill School, UK

Several years ago, I was tasked with the responsibility for careers education at my school. This was an exciting prospect and one that I approached with a wealth of new ideas and initiatives, only to be met with the inevitable consequence of wanting to do more than time allowed. At the time, I was studying for a Master’s degree, which had recently focused on distributed leadership. Recognising the benefits of distributed leadership, the Student Careers Team model was born.

Distributed leadership

Distributed leadership and its association with school improvement has attracted attention in education for a number of years, increasingly linked with the use of teams and teamwork (Ritchie and Woods, 2007). Distributed leadership has been described as multiple formal and informal leaders performing leadership tasks (Spillane et al., 2004), which, in the case of this example, involves the teacher, students and an adult volunteer. Distributing leadership to students requires us to change our view of students away from ‘adults-to-be’ to a state of already ‘being’, from immaturity and subordination to useful participants (Rudduck and Fielding, 2006). MacBeath (2005) highlighted the variations in definitions of leadership amongst teachers, though it is generally accepted that distributed leadership is not equivalent to delegating tasks alone, but involves more empowerment of individuals in taking part in collective leadership responsibility. Developing roles that express and generate confidence and commitment in participants is necessary for avoiding tokenism and creating a legitimate place for student voice (Fielding, 2018). This is what the Student Careers Team model aimed to achieve.

Establishing the Student Careers Team

The aim of the Student Careers Team was to enhance the provision of careers education across the school by making use of the resources to hand: the students. Per Dalin estimated that 90 per cent of the intellectual capital and leadership potential of a school is underused, with 95 per cent of that underutilisation being within the student body, leading to students being described as a great untapped resource in our schools (Fink, 2009).

The Student Careers Team consisted of students, the Head of Careers and a ‘Business Volunteer’. The Student Careers Team ran for six years and students were replaced each year using an application process. A programme of sponsorship, raised from donations from local businesses willing to invest in the Student Careers Team, enabled the students to have funds to implement their ideas.

The application process was advertised in an assembly in the autumn term and was open to students in Year 10. Students had to complete application forms later reviewed by the existing team, in conjunction with the Business Volunteer.

The Business Volunteer was a parent volunteer who worked alongside the team. They were vital in the running of the Student Careers Team and helped to develop the students’ skills of delegation, establishing team member roles, taking minutes, time-management and logistics. The team met weekly for one hour after school with the Business Volunteer, discussing ideas and delegating roles and responsibilities.

To empower and equip the team, team members attended training workshops in careers guidance, visited local universities, attended careers fairs and spoke at local business networking breakfasts.

Benefits of the Student Careers Team

Over the six years, the Student Careers Team implemented a number of new initiatives that improved careers information across the school, for example:

  • taking responsibility for the careers library
  • conducting an annual school survey of career interests, feeding back to the school in an assembly and tailoring information displays and workshops around the results
  • producing a ‘Career of the Week’ PowerPoint slide for the school daily briefing in form times
  • arranging a variety of workshops to develop skills such as CV writing and interview technique
  • taking responsibility for a Student Careers Team social media account to share careers-related information with other students
  • taking assemblies and putting up displays
  • assisting in the organisation and running of the school’s annual careers fair.

Students were members of the team for one year. At the beginning of Year 11, the Student Careers Team advertised for new team members and the application process took place, beginning the cycle again. The existing team and the new team worked together for a transition period, passing on skills and knowledge.

Students who had demonstrated a particular commitment to the team and had provided a valuable output for other students in the school were recognised at the annual prize-giving service with the award of ‘Careers Ambassador’.

The benefits of distributing leadership to students, albeit involving an investment in time to equip and enable these young people, ricocheted over the coming years, as the Student Careers Team became a desirable and beneficial leadership opportunity that greatly enhanced the provision of careers education in a way that I could never have done on my own, providing numerous benefits to team members as well as to students across the school.


Fielding M (2018) Radical democracy and student voice in secondary schools. In: Feau J and Prieto-Flores O (eds) Democracy and Education in the 21st Century: The Articulation of New Democratic Discourses and Practices. Oxford: Peter Lang, pp. 69–85.

Fink D (2009) Liberating leadership potential. In: Blankstein AM, Houston PD and Cole RW (eds) Building Sustainable Leadership Capacity. California: Sage, pp. 41–64.

MacBeath J (2005) Leadership as distributed: A matter of practice. School Leadership & Management 25(4): 349–366.

Ritchie R and Woods P (2007) Degrees of distribution: Towards an understanding of variations in the nature of distributed leadership in schools. School Leadership & Management 27(4): 363–381.

Rudduck J and Fielding M (2006) Student voice and the perils of popularity. Educational Review 58(2): 219–231.

Spillane J, Halverson R and Diamond J (2004) Towards a theory of leadership practice: A distributed perspective. Journal of Curriculum Studies 36(1): 3–34.

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