An investigation into distributed leadership in primary schools
Gifford, David Peter
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- © 2007 David Peter Gifford. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.
This study investigates factors that help and hinder primary schools in their distribution of leadership in England. Distributed leadership is defined as collaborative leadership within a culture of shared action and interaction. The research extends beyond teacher leadership and delegated leadership, which are limitations of previous studies, whilst contributing to the developing knowledge of distributed leadership practice in the UK- about which little has been previously written.
Ofsted reports and LA recommendations were used to select four primary schools within North East Lincolnshire. Schools selected were identified as good schools and believed to distribute leadership. Using a mixed methods approach, 53 questionnaires were analysed using SPSS, to screen two schools for further study. These schools were further investigated using a multiple case study design. Semi structured interviews were conducted with two primary headteachers, one deputy and one assistant head, two teachers and two teaching assistants, enabling the researcher to consider the interactions and analysis of leadership practice at group level, and the complexities of the situation.
A narrow research focus on four primary schools, and subsequent interviews with eight stakeholders in two schools is a very small sample size, and indicative of further study. However, the study is apposite at a time of demographic crisis in teaching in England; with 40% headteachers in primary schools over fifty and likely to retire in the next decade, the increasing numbers of part time teachers, and the increased number and extended use of teaching assistants in primary education.
The study provides a framework of thinking about distributed leadership in primary schools, which at a pragmatic level might help other schools in the development and sustainability of leadership. This framework includes: processes, school culture, structural organisation of schools, sources of leadership, and barriers to distributed leadership.
Findings show that whilst all collaborative leadership is distributed, not all distributed leadership is collaborative. Distributed leadership was found to exist alongside other forms of leadership, and although it was frequently planned, it sometimes occurred by default or through desperation. It was particularly effective where schools invested in the leadership development of all stakeholders, and in a culture of trust, support and encouragement. The Senior Management Team was particularly influential within this. Barriers that inhibited distributed leadership included traditional structures and systems both within the schools and the local authority.
- Centre for Educational Studies, The University of Hull
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