Case study of middle and senior leader working relationships in a secondary school in England

Riazat, Nasima Shaheen (2016). Case study of middle and senior leader working relationships in a secondary school in England. EdD thesis The Open University.



This study aims to examine whether middle leaders in School A operate beyond their departments to participate in whole school decision-making alongside senior leaders through exploring working relationships. Much has been written about sharing leadership across all levels in schools (Arrowsmith, 2007; Bell etal, 2011; Harris, 2011; Bush, 2012) but there remains a gap in empirical research which focuses on middle and senior leader perceptions of being involved in whole school decision-making.

This study is a small 'real-time' snapshot to illuminate participant perceptions. The extent of which 'talk' of sharing whole school decision-making occurred in practice in School A was explored from a middle and senior leader perspective.

A grounded theory case study approach was used and a small sample of four middle leaders, three senior leaders, and a headteacher were interviewed from School A in the North of England. The interview data was triangulated through observations, documentary analysis of documents, such as agendas and minutes of meetings, before being analysed and compared against existing academic literature. Two important overarching theoretical concepts of 'relationships between middle and senior leaders' and 'organisational culture' emerged which underpinned the sub-concepts of 'balkanization', 'collaboration', 'capacity building', 'job role', and 'hierarchy'.

The findings show a culture of transactional leadership is operating in School A and an ethos of balkanization indicates middle leaders are working in individual departments. There is a belief amongst the middle leaders that their involvement in whole school decision-making is contrived, however, the data also indicates that middle leaders may not readily accept whole school decision-making as part of their wider role.

Research outcomes, which emerged from the data, suggest possible ways forward for School A to increase and embed collaborative decision-making between middle and senior leaders within the existing transactional school culture.

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