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Statutory intervention: perceptions of New Zealand primary school principals and their experiences

Each year, a small number of New Zealand schools are identified as underperforming and require external leadership assistance, usually from the Ministry of Education. This support is implemented through a statutory intervention mechanism aimed to address underpinning issues such as governance and leadership matters, low student academic achievement, issues of finance, and student and staff wellbeing (Ministry of Education, 2017). While statutory interventions have been enacted in New Zealand since 1994 as a mechanism to ‘turn a school around’, there is little research about what this experience is like for educational leaders, or how it affects their professional and personal lives. Within the turnaround school literature, educational leaders are often positioned as heroic leaders who seek to address students’ low academic performance by changing the school climate and culture, or as servant leaders who devote their life to the school. There is, however, an omission within this literature on the countervailing pressures school leaders experience while seeking to implement change, and how these pressures affect the professional and personal lives of leaders. Using Dewey’s theory of experiences, I examined the personal and professional experiences of three state primary school principals who were leading a school in statutory intervention. The participating principals’ knowledge was lived, contextualised, shaped, and embedded within the professional-knowledge landscape of New Zealand primary schools (Clandinin & Rosiek, 2007). The stories told by the principals “express their personal understandings” (Elbaz-Luwisch, 2007, p. 367) of their experiences of leading and managing a school during a statutory intervention. The principals provided some key insights into their experiences of leading school change through complex, difficult situations. Working with statutory appointees provided a range of challenges for the principals, which included seeking to find common understandings of the issues within the school and the lack of contextual awareness from some appointees. Complex and challenging issues relating to staff where highlight in the principals narratives. Staff issues included a lack contextual and cultural awareness, deficit thinking with punitive classroom management systems, low teacher engagement with teaching and learning, resistant to change and traumatised staff. The principals also experienced issues professionally and personally. Working in complex challenging schools resulted in the principals feeling isolated from other leaders. They felt no other principal had experienced nor understood their situation, therefore finding appropriate support and guidance was difficult. Subsequently, the principals’ health and wellbeing began to suffer with significant consequences on their mental health and wellbeing. The principals involved in this study have been shaped and influenced by their experiences (Dewey, 1938). They are not the same principal who entered into a statutory intervention as the principal who emerged from it. Their experiences, the context of their schools and the interactions they had with their statutory appointee and school stakeholders, have influenced and shaped them personally and professionally.
Type of thesis
Cook, S. F. (2021). Statutory intervention: perceptions of New Zealand primary school principals and their experiences (Thesis, Doctor of Education (EdD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/14243
The University of Waikato
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