Whose risk? 'managing' risk in the principalship

Year: 2008

Author: Starr, Karen

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This article discusses the rise in prominence of 'risk' in schools and the processes and procedures it has triggered in its wake. The discussion commences with formal definitions of 'risk' and how risk is mandated and 'managed' in schools. Alternative views are canvassed and hegemonic emphases in risk policy and practice are critiqued. Taking a socio-cultural approach, the article explores risk from the perspective of school leaders, raising topics elided in risk discourses. The article takes the view that current conceptions of 'risk' have created greater complexity and further risks for the school leaders who 'manage' it. The article investigates school leaders 'and risk' - how risks emerge in the course of everyday school leadership work; school leaders 'at risk' - interrogating the personal and professional risk borne by school leaders through risk policies; and leaders 'as risk' - broaching the rarely raised topic of 'bad' leadership in schools, with its deleterious effects on individuals and whole school communities. These aspects of risk are not found in current literature on risk in educational leadership. The article then goes further to raise the 'undiscussable' topic of risky central leadership practices which render school leaders at even more risk. The article concludes with discussion of risks that school leaders cannot afford not to take in dealing with risk, particularly with regard to collective action to address mandated policy procedures which are detrimental to the foundational issues of teaching, learning, professional agency and community perceptions.