An exploration of leadership in Irish post-primary education

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O'Donovan, Margaret M. M.
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University College Cork
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The purpose of this study is to explore the nature and how of leadership in Irish post-primary schools. It considers school leadership within the context of contemporary Distributed Leadership theory. Associated concepts such as Distributed Cognition and Activity Theory are used to frame the study. From a distributed perspective, it is now widely accepted that other agents (e.g. teachers) have a leadership role, as part of collaborative, participative and supportive learning communities. Thus, this study considers how principals interact and build leadership capacity throughout the school. The study draws on two main sources of evidence. In analysing the implications of accountability agendas for school leadership, there is an exploration and focus on the conceptualisations of school leadership that are fore-grounded in 21 WSE reports. Elements of Critical Discourse Analysis are employed as an investigative tool to decipher how the construction of leadership practice is produced. The second prong of the study explores leadership in 3 case-study post-primary schools. Leadership is a complex phenomenon and not easy to describe. The findings clarify, however, that school leadership is a construct beyond the scope of the principal alone. While there is widespread support for a distributed model of leadership, the concept does not explicitly form part of the discourse in the case-study schools. It is also evident that any attempt to understand leadership practice must connect local interpretations with broader discourses. The understanding and practice of leadership is best understood in its sociohistorical context. The study reveals that, in the Irish post-primary school, the historical dimension is very influential, while the situational setting, involving a particular set of agents and agendas, strongly shapes thinking and practices. This study is novel as it synthesises two key sources of evidence. It is of great value in that it teases out the various historical and situational aspects to enhance understandings of school leadership in contemporary Ireland. It raises important questions for policy, practice and further research.
Inspectorate , Policy , Principal , Activity theory , Critical discourse analysis , Distributed cognition , Distributed leadership , Instructional leadership , Irish post-primary education , Socio-historical context
O'Donovan, M. M. M. 2014. An exploration of leadership in Irish post-primary education. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.