The Accountability Generation: Exploring Emerging Leadership Paradigms through Foucault

Year: 2016

Author: Heffernan, Amanda

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

How can we come to understand the impact of high-pressure environments on emerging school leaders? Since the introduction of NAPLAN in 2008, Queensland school leaders have been working in a rapidly shifting space, with expectations of principals to work towards system-defined improvement measures involving increasingly higher external accountabilities (Lingard & Sellar, 2013). There is a breadth of research in the field of educational leadership within this specific context of post-NAPLAN Queensland, some of which has used poststructuralist theory to explore the impact of these shifting expectations on principals (Hardy, 2014; Niesche, 2011, 2013 & 2014). This paper provides an original contribution to the field of research by reporting on a group of long-term case studies of the effects of school improvement expectations on principals since the introduction of NAPLAN in 2008. In it, I make use of Foucauldian theory to better understand the impact of performative cultures and heavy external accountabilities on a specific group of principals in Queensland state schools. A unique feature of the region in which these case studies were undertaken is the large proportion of small school principals, the majority of whom are in the early stages of their teaching careers. These principals joined the teaching profession post-NAPLAN and the influence of these accountabilities is emerging as a point of difference between them and longer-established school leaders. The paper introduces new findings highlighting the emergence of a new leadership paradigm for these principals and identifies this as an area inviting further inquiry within the wider field of educational leadership and administration. It suggests that Foucault’s ideas provide a way of critically exploring the influence of rapidly shifting expectations on individuals’ leadership practices.