Heroic heads, mobility mythologies and the power of ambiguity

Kulz, Christy. 2017. Heroic heads, mobility mythologies and the power of ambiguity. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 38(2), pp. 85-104. ISSN 0142-5692 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This paper explores how the contradictions of neoliberal education reform and its companion, the self-made aspirational subject, are embodied by Sir Michael Wilshaw, former headteacher of Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, East London, through his leadership practices. Wilshaw creates powerful mobility and morality tales that pave over the contradictions and ambiguities inherent in the academies programme and Mossbourne’s approach. Drawing on a larger study of Mossbourne, the paper focuses on how raced and classed pathological discourses are mobilised and inverted both by Wilshaw and policy rhetoric, cultivating compliance through a belief in the aspirational subject capable of transcending social structures. The paper argues that neoliberal academy reforms are not about autonomy, but the imperative to comply with centralised policy demands at the expense of democratic participation and accountability.

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This work was supported by an Economic and Social Research Council +3 Studentship.


education, academies, class, race, inequality, social mobility

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16 June 2015Published Online
20 April 2015Accepted

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Date Deposited:

14 Aug 2015 15:16

Last Modified:

15 Apr 2021 10:52

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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