Dr Deirdre Torrance

Honorary Fellow


Dr Deirdre Torrance completed the four year Primary B.Ed. degree at Moray House before working for eleven years in continuous employment in a range of posts across primary, secondary and special education schools within the Edinburgh area. During that time, she returned to part-time academic study, completing a Masters in Education (Special Educational Needs) in 1998. Deirdre then held the post of 3-14 Educational Adviser and subsequently the post of Quality Improvement Officer with the City of Edinburgh Council for three years before taking up a career in higher education.

Deirdre joined the School of Education in 2004, first as a Teaching Fellow and then as Academic Coordinator for the Scottish Qualification for Headship (SQH) Programme. Until recently, she was Senior Lecturer and lead expert in the field of educational leadership. Dr. Torrance was also Director of Teacher Education Partnerships; Director of the Masters in Educational Leadership and Management, including the Scottish Qualification for Headship; and Co-Director of the Masters in Leadership and Learning, including the Into Headship programme. Her PhD, completed in 2012, investigated ‘Distributed Leadership In Scottish Primary Schools: Myth or Actualities?’

Teacher Education Partnerships


  • PhD (University of Edinburgh) 2012
  • MEd (Masters in Education - Special Educational Needs, University of Edinburgh) 1998
  • BEd Primary Degree (graduated with Distinction and awarded the Steele Prize for Language, Moray House College) 1990

Postgraduate teaching

Until recently, Deirdre taught on several Masters courses and was also engaged in PhD supervision at the University of Edinburgh, based at Moray House School of Education. Most of her teaching was related to the two programmes she was Director and Co-Directorfor: the Masters in Educational Leadership and Management (of which the Diploma stage brought with it the professional award of the Scottish Qualification for Headship); and the Masters in Leadership and Learning. Deirdre also played the lead role in the development and delivery of a range of leadership CPD at local authority level.

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Areas of interest for supervision

Previously, Deirdre supervised research related to educational leadership and management under the headings below. She supervised Masters and PhD research. 

Research summary

Deirdre is interested in the field of educational leadership and management. Specific areas include:

  • headteacher / principal  development
  • developing early / teacher  leadership
  • developing middle leadership
  • school leadership and management
  • social justice leadership
  • women in leadership
  • school improvement processes
  • Professional Standards

Current research interests

Deirdre has a substantial professional background across primary, secondary and special education, as well as local government, developing important perspectives in educational leadership and leadership development. Deirdre continues to be engaged in a number of collaborative research and writing projects. Her primary research interests include leadership preparation, school leadership and management, teacher leadership, middle leadership, distributed leadership and social justice leadership. Deirdre is principle researcher for the Scottish contribution to an international research project, the BELMAS UCEA Collaboration, International School Leadership Development Network (2013 – ongoing). She is also a key member of the organising committee for the BELMAS Comparative Review of Educational Leadership and Administration in the United Kingdom. Deirdre is co-author of an international book on social justice leadership, due to be published in 2019.

Past research interests

Deirdre has a keen interest in exploring distributed leadership in practice. Her PhD study (2012) took as its focus an exploration of distributed leadership in Scottish primary schools focusing on three contextualised headteacher case studies. Small-scale empirical research using interpretative enquiry with aspects of a grounded approach, reached a depth of understanding of the problematic nature of a distributed perspective on leadership. Deirdre has presented a number of conference papers and written a number of peer reviewed journal articles exploring different aspects of distributed leadership. She continues to publish in this area. Deirdre has a keen interest in teacher leadership. Through small-scale empirical research she has explored with groups of teachers focused on developing their leadership skills, why they seek to make a wider contribution within their school and the extent of support and/or organisational barriers for leadership encountered. Previously, Deirdre collaborated with Dr Mike Carroll of Glasgow University, presenting conference papers together. Deirdre also collaborated with Prof Ross Notman of the University of Otago, New Zealand and with Danny Murphy of the University of Edinburgh. Deirdre also has a keen interest in perspectives on women in educational leadership. She has collaborated with international colleagues through small-scale exploratory case study research to present conference papers and published in this area, drawing from research conducted in four countries – Scotland, England, Jamaica and New Zealand. Deirdre has a keen interest in leadership development. In relation to exploring routes to headship, she had the lead role for the DARE pilot project, funded by the Scottish Government, to develop alternative pathways for leadership development. The aim of this pathway was to blend the best of academic rigour with the best of work-based learning, whilst providing flexibility. Additional tutoring/coaching complements specific aspects of the SQH programme which the alternative route participants undertake. Small-scale empirical research documented the perspectives of the DARE project participants, coaches and tutor through semi-structured interviews. The evaluations had a particular interest in the effectiveness of the programme structure, the quality of provision, the complementary roles of coach and tutor, the coaching experience, the tutoring experience, and the impact on participants and their practice that participation in the programme has led to. Dr Jim O'Brien and Dr Stephen Sharp (2008) formally evaluated the first phase of that project. Together with Iain Pritchard (2010), Deirdre formally evaluated the second phase of that project. She has presented conference papers and published in these areas.

Knowledge exchange

Knowledge exchange has formed a core strand of Deirdre's work since taking up her career with the University of Edinburgh. In her various roles, she has worked with and supported a range of formal and informal partners. 

Project activity

Since 2007, Deirdre has secured a significant amount of funding to progress a range of research and development projects for the School of Education.

Past project grants

Latterly, as Director of Teacher Education Partnerships, Deirdre had the lead role in securing a series of Scottish Government grants.

View all 46 publications on Research Explorer

In the press


During February 2015, together with Dr Rowena Arshad, Deirdre featured in the Universities public blog entries and a number of India media opportunities, representing the School of Education and the University in its efforts to stage its most ambitious series of events in India. One example: Arshad, R. and Torrance, D. (2015) Where are the women leaders in higher education?  EDU Teach Article (For Leaders in Higher Education).

Deirdre has been quoted in a number of GTCS and TESS articles over the years. She also wrote an article for TESS: Humes, W. and Torrance, D. (2013) All aboard the leadership bandwagon?

Deirdre was also quoted in a FEdS Report in January 2012: The Scotland Briefing under teacher employment, education and development. FEdS Consultancy Group.

On 18 September 2013, Deirdre was interviewed by David Noble on the subject of distributed leadership (broadcast, then downloadable podcast): 'The Problematic Nature of Distributed Leadership'. Guest interviewee for Radio Edutalk (http://www.edutalk.info).