Leading High-Needs Schools – leadership to improve schools and bring students back to learning

Year: 2019

Author: Longmuir, Fiona, Drysdale, Lawrie, Gurr, David, McCrohan, Kieran

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The International School Leadership Development Network (ISLDN) is approaching ten years as an influential research collaboration. Research contributions to the ISLDN from 16 countries have advanced the knowledge of leadership in a broad range of contexts. The research collaborations are organised into two strands, Leading High-needs Schools and Social Justice Leadership, with many contributions overlapping both programs. This paper presents an overview of the Australian contribution to the ISLDN high-needs schools research and shares initial findings and insights from the most recent Australian work contributing to this international research collaboration.

Four case studies of the leadership of schools that were underperforming and needed to improve has been the main Australian contribution to the ISLDN. These case studies used a multiple-perspective an observational methodology, and included individual interviews with senior leaders and group interviews with teacher, student and parents. The four schools reported in this presentation were government secondary schools in the metropolitan Melbourne area. Two of these schools were selected for their above average levels of economic advantage, and two were selected with below average levels of economic advantage (as evidenced by ICSEA). Each of the four schools had high needs in terms of requirements for improvement, re-engagement of students and re-connection with their communities who had lost trust in the capacities of each school. Findings suggested that the leadership required in these schools was: 1) highly sensitive to contextual factors, but not constrained by these, 2) visionary and competent in sharing and driving commitment to a specific vision of improvement, 3) highly student-centred with a focus on disrupting prior organisational structures and cultural norms in ways that considered the student–educator dynamics at the pedagogical core of learning.

The next phase of the Australian contribution is going to investigate leadership practices in three alternative education settings in Victoria. This project is looking at the ways that leadership supports the re-engagement of students who have disengaged from other schools. Investigating leadership in these settings will enable a focused examination of how schools foster more equitable learning relationships that give learners greater control of their educative experiences and how socio-cultural and policy settings are managed to challenge the predominant grammars of schooling that disenfranchise many young learners. Early findings from this phase will be reported.