Influences on the school exclusion decisions of Queensland secondary principals

Year: 2019

Author: Swayn, Natalie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

How principals make the decision to exclude a student from school and what factors, in addition to the student’s behaviour, influence their decision-making are key questions explored in this study. In this thesis, school discipline decisions were cast as genuinely ‘wicked policy problems’ characterised by social complexity, unintended consequences and multiple interdependencies and causes. They were depicted as decision events rich with evidence of the dilemmas faced by those responsible for executing discipline policies at the school level, in that there can be no truly ‘correct’ results, only ‘better’ or ‘worse’ under known circumstances - with either outcome fated to generate new, if different, problems. It is the texture of these dilemmas that the following multiple case study captured using linkage diagrams based on the Complex Dynamic Decision Perspective model developed by Cooksey (2000).

In this study, the school exclusion decisions of seven state secondary principals
in Queensland were examined and mapped to provide informative visual depictions of the multi-dimensional nature of such events. Fifteen factors, in addition to student behaviour, were revealed as having a significant influence on the final decision by a principal to either retain or expel students. The fifteen factors of influence, organised by context, are:

1. Decision response: a) delegation, b) objectivity and c) reactions of stakeholders to event

2. Individual context: a) calmness, b) response to criticism, c) decision experience and d) motivation

3. Environmental context: a) stakeholder expectations, b) legal boundaries and c) organisation tool and resources

4. Interpersonal context: a) respect for colleagues’ decision and b) support to school staff as major elements, and

5. Organisational context: a) delegated authority, b) culture and values and c) policies and procedures of the agency.

Most influential among these factors were the attitudes of staff and the broader
community. These factors, or micro influences, can be viewed as ‘spaces’ around
decisions, providing scope not only for improving our understanding of how and why different disciplinary decisions occur, but offering new sites for potential intervention, support and adjustments to the decision-making process. In an education era dominated by school-based management and autonomy, the
expectation that system-wide discipline policies can provide consistent disciplinary
decisions across students and settings was found to be impractical and unrealistic.