JELPP – Volume 36 (2021)

Promotion to leadership, not just merit, but insider knowledge: What do school principals say?

Kevin Steed / John De Nobile / Manjula Waniganayake


Whilst extensive research has been undertaken concerning educational leadership and management, there is a paucity of scholarship regarding the merit-selection of school leaders other than principals. This is especially true of principal-led merit selection panels convened to recruit middle-level school leaders, namely deputy principals, assistant principals and head teachers. Meritocratic discourse holds that merit-based selection should, ostensibly be an objective, fair and equitable process enabling applicants to compete on a level playing field via a comparative assessment of their capabilities, talents and attitudes. This paper explores the extent to which government school principals in the state of New South Wales Australia, consider the school-based merit selection process they lead is objective and bias-free. Hence, the findings reported here reveal that despite the New South Wales Department of Education (NSWDE) promulgating the primacy of merit in its school-based selection paradigm, non-merit variables (factors having little to do with merit) exert considerable influence over the appointment decisions made by NSWDE principals when assembling their respective school leadership teams.

Principal leadership practices during the COVID-19 lockdown

Kate Thornton


New Zealand secondary school principals were required to make changes to their leadership practices when schools were closed as part of a national lockdown in response to the COVID-19 situation in early 2020. Eighteen school principals from a range of secondary schools were interviewed about their experiences. The research found that principals engaged in leadership that was relational, distributed and collaborative. They prioritised the wellbeing of teachers and students, responded flexibly to the challenges faced, drew on expertise from both within and outside of the school, and took opportunities to refocus and try new ways of working.

School leaders in England transition through change: Insider and outsider perspectives

Margaret Ritchie, Pamela S. Angelle, Ian Potter


Schools in the 21st century have grown increasingly complex and government mandates have compounded this complexity as principals have looked beyond their school to embrace stakeholders and authorities who view education from myriad perspectives. This qualitative case study examined the personal perspectives of leaders, reflecting upon their transition from organisational governance change through the formation of a multi-academy trust. Findings revealed that while the creation of a new school system offered school leaders opportunities for interorganisational transfers and promotions, the internal transition experienced was unexpected and often unaddressed. Leaders expressed their difficulty in reconciling their desire to address the needs of the schools and community through consolidation while maintaining their own health as an individual leader. Findings from this study offer lessons in the importance of examining change both within the organisation through a personal lens as well as an external lens.

Women leaders in community secondary schools in rural Tanzania: Challenges and coping strategies

Joyce Germanus Mbepera


In Tanzania, many qualified and capable women teachers are not involved in decision making despite the fact that the Tanzania government has affirmed the promotion of women's participation in the decision-making process. Even those few who are in leadership still face obstacles and challenges especially in a rural context. This paper examines the challenges women leaders face and identifies the coping strategies they use to overcome the challenges in Community Secondary Schools (CSSs) in rural Tanzania. The study involved heads of schools, teachers, the Regional Educational Officer (REO) and the District Education Officer (DEO). Data were obtained through interviews and focus group discussions. The findings reveal that women face multi-level challenges with respect to family, society and the education system, most of which arise from early socialisation. Women leaders work in a patriarchal society that does not accept them due to their sex/femininity and there is a lack of trust from their spouses when they execute leadership roles. It was also observed that women leaders face challenges posed by witchcraft and superstition issues in the rural context. In confronting these challenges, women leaders identified cooperation with staff and the community, sharing challenges with experienced leaders, and being creative as useful coping strategies. The study recommends a number of measures for overcoming such challenges at society, organisational and government levels.

Changing and challenging dimensions of principal autonomy in South Australia: A lived experience phenomenological analysis of the courage to care

Andrew Bills, Nigel Howard, Michael Bell


This paper employs critical policy historiography of South Australian public education as a contextual backdrop that speaks to a hermeneutic phenomenological study of the lived experiences of two former public-school principals, who describe how their ongoing social justice schooling agendas in public education met with considerable departmental resistance. Both resigned at the peak of their public education careers to pursue their schooling vision in the federally funded independent school system which traditionally catered for the wealthy, elite schools and forms the third tier of the complex funding arrangements of education in Australia that has festered for years under the label “the funding wars” (Ashenden, 2016). Changes to funding arrangements opened up the system and gave the opportunity for our two principals to pursue a public vision in the independent schooling sector, free from what they described as the “shackles” of bureaucratic command and control. The phenomenological essence of their journeyed leadership narratives reveals the courage to care, driving their narrative reflections. They perceived that increasing demands of departmental compliance took them away from being able to pursue a socially just vision with autonomy and freedom. Stepping into the uncertainty of their new independent schooling aspirations, the principals felt professional relief and found real autonomy. We conclude with an exploration of the phenomenological notion of “the courage to care.”