This chapter asks, ‘Can you lead from outside the system?’ While it is possible to conceptualise education leadership as strictly existing within the framework of a school system, we think it is vital to consider whole system(s) leadership as well, particularly in relation to education policy. Civil society groups can influence, shape, and lead education policy through constructing spaces for public engagement, knowledge mobilisation, and accountability (Fox, 2001, 2016). Actors outside the education system can be critical to education leadership as they are in a unique position to build connections between those within and those outside the system, communicate evidence to the public, and instigate dialogue from an independent platform. The ‘policy microspaces’ of education are not bound within a classroom, school, or even education system; instead education policy moves through local, regional, national, and global spaces in complex ways (Ball, Maguire, & Braun, 2011; Ball & Exley, 2010; Howlett et al., 2009; Winton & Brewer, 2014).
Using the work of People for Education (PFE) as a case study, this chapter explores the challenges and opportunities of ‘education leadership from the outside’. People for Education is a unique organisation in Canada: independent, non-partisan, and fuelled by a belief in the power and promise of public education. We create evidence, instigate dialogue, and build links so that people can see—and act on—the connection between public education and a fair and prosperous society. Through examining examples of PFE’s evidence-based policy advocacy and stakeholder engagement, we challenge the notion that education leadership is confined to those within the system and suggest that there is much needed hope in the possibility of working together (those inside and outside education) for system change.