Secondary Headship in the Context of School Autonomy

Gifford, Elizabeth Patricia (2003). Secondary Headship in the Context of School Autonomy. MPhil thesis The Open University.



The passing of the 1988 Education Reform Act created the context of school autonomy, including on-site management responsibility and accountability for performance. The intention behind this research project was to explore the impact of this move on the nature of secondary headship. The survey of the literature (chapter one), relating to headship both pre and post 1988, suggested four areas for exploration (later refined as research questions): the nature of headship itself; success in headship; expectations of staff, students, parents and governors; and preparation for and support during headship.

A consideration of the most suitable methods (chapter two) led to the adoption of the case study approach to collect qualitative data that would illuminate understanding of developments in headship. Six heads were interviewed and revisited. Senior staff were interviewed and documents studied to provide supporting or contrasting evidence. The researcher was herself a hcadtcacher and the project was designed to take advantage of her access to heads and be compatible with full time employment.

The data are presented as case study reports in chapter three and answers to the research questions in chapter four. The resulting insights into the nature of headship can be found in chapter five which considers the emerging themes and conclusions.

Headship emerges as a holistic role rather than a series of tasks or activities. Five interlinked themes are seen as encapsulating the nature of headship. These are: scope and complexity; leadership and management of change; the impact of the context; managing dilemmas; and the nature of the head’s accountability. The nature of these themes and the way in which they overlap emphasise the comprehensive and holistic quality of the role and the advanced nature of the required skills, qualities and experience.

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