Democratic School Leadership: Perceptions and Practices in Secondary Schools in Kenya

Jwan, Julius Ouma (2009). Democratic School Leadership: Perceptions and Practices in Secondary Schools in Kenya. PhD thesis The Open University.



My study investigates school principals', teachers' and students' perceptions of democratic school leadership in secondary schools in Kenya and how these perceptions inform practices in their schools. The study is set against a background of a recent requirement by the Kenyan Government that school principals adopt democratic school leadership practices. This follows the enactment of the UN charter on the rights of children in 2001 and the subsequent ban on corporal punishment in schools. Very little research exists in this area in Kenya and, indeed, sub-Saharan Africa even though literature reveals that strong school leadership is a key requirement for school success, effectiveness and improvement.

Adopting an interpretive-constructionist paradigm, I conducted the study in two phases. In phase one, I interviewed 12 principals to generate background information on democratic school leadership and to select two schools for an in-depth study; one where the principal perceived her/his leadership practices as very democratic and one where the principal viewed her practices as less democratic. Phase two was a 'compressed' ethnographic case study of two schools. I gathered data through semi-structured interviews, observations, focus group discussions and informal conversations.

The findings suggest that most principals, teachers and students perceive democratic school leadership as participation in decision making in the school and the right to express their views without inhibitions. The informants' ideas, though not inclusive of all the elements of democracy, are not significantly different from the view of democratic school leadership discussed in the literature - 'rational' perceptions. However, most practices in the schools were not consistent with these perceptions. The schools practised what they referred to as 'partial/guided' democracy, especially when dealing with students - 'culturally embedded' perceptions. This differed between the two schools and was based on the socio-cultural context of each school. Therefore, despite the Government's requirements that schools adopt democratic school leadership, very little attention has been paid to these requirements.

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