A Principal's Student Leadership: Secondary Students' Perceptions of the Qualities and Behaviours of their School Principal
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
The study is an exploratory and illuminative case study of a principal’s leadership of a cross section of his students. It is situated within an11-18, comprehensive school in a semi- rural, coastal town in the southwest of England. This predominantly white British school, with above national average levels of economic and social deprivation, has a recent historical context of rapid and sustained improvement in examination results at all levels over the period just before and during the study: two Ofsted inspections during this time judged the school to be good with outstanding features, following a previous judgement of ‘satisfactory’ just before the arrival of the principal. The study offers an insider perspective in the field of principal effectiveness, which is more usually dominated by research from the outside, as the principal in question is also the researcher. Equally unusually in this field, the study explores the principal’s leadership from a student’s perspective by operating at the level of student voice and collecting their personal stories and opinions using six student focus groups. The groups were constructed and facilitated by a co researcher with the purpose of protecting students’ identity, aiding reliability and adding a collaborative level of interpretation. A social constructionist approach is adopted for the study which is situated in an interpretivist methodological paradigm. The data were analysed thematically and viewed from a socio cultural perspective. The research suggests that students are able to describe and recognise the concept of the principal’s student leadership. Some, more than others, place a value on this in terms of it having an instrumental effect on their school experience and many view it from a relational perspective. These data support the findings of another piece of research from a similar perspective that suggests students value personal affirmative and affiliative qualities and traits in the leadership they experience from the headteacher (Moos et al 1998). From the socio cultural perspective of this study and the definition of social capital as being “relationships matter” (Puttnam 2000) then it may be suggested that a principal’s student leadership is likely to contribute, either positively or negatively, to students’ social capital. Although it is not possible to suggest generalisablity from these findings, due to the very limited scope of the case study and small number of participant students, practitioners may nevertheless find the study of some value. This detailed and illuminative interrogation of the principal /researcher’s specific context, may provide reflective colleagues with examples of good practice, that can be applied to their own context, when seeking ways to ensure that all students feel valued and empowered.
Doctor of Education in Education