System leadership continues to be constructed largely as a desirable, even normative evolution of educational leadership, with critiques often focusing on implementation rather than principles. This belies its increasingly recognised role in processes of disintermediation, in which the ‘middle tier’ comprising local government is dismantled.
In this article, we draw on interview and observation data from our case-study research in a new Multi-Academy Trust to argue that system leadership is better understood as a manifestation of, and mechanism for depoliticisation. We present a reconceptualisation of system leadership in which its primary function is to enable and operationalise three forms of depoliticisation: governmental, societal and discursive. We conclude that system leadership as depoliticisation is a suite of professional practices with linked identities and dispositions that operationalises the state’s project to depoliticise education in England through multi-academisation, or the creation of multi-academy trusts.