The impact of risk management on the changing nature of a principal's work

Perry, Lee-Anne (2007) The impact of risk management on the changing nature of a principal's work. Professional Doctorate thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Risk has now become part of the common forensic vocabulary used in the new global culture to hold persons (such as principals) and institutions (such as schools) accountable. Thus, in a risk society (Giddens 2000; Beck1992), the nature of a principal's work is changing. Risk and its management have become integral parts of a principal's professional repertoire as the commonplace activities of schooling have become framed as risks to be managed. Tensions arise for school principals when external and internal pressures to measure performance threaten to overwhelm their responsibility for paying attention to the learning that is, or should be, occurring in their schools. A problem that emerges out of all this is the extent to which the nature and scope of contemporary accountability and audit regimes are underpinned by a negative logic that impacts directly on choices made by school leaders about the learning environment of their school.

This dissertation addresses this problem by examining the impact of risk management on the nature of a principal's work and the implications of this impact for secondary school leadership. It does so through a series of nested publications and an empirical study, beginning with the testing of conceptual understandings through international and national journals, and moving to dissemination of key findings through professional journals and conference and workshop delivery. The strategy was one of moving from global feedback on a locally experienced problem, to national feedback and then to engagement with professional colleagues. This approach was chosen to verify the quality of the analysis and to target the dissemination of findings to professional colleagues, facilitating professional dialogue on the core issues both during and subsequent to the dissertation process, and, in so doing, contributing to improved professional practice of the principalship.

The dissertation begins by addressing risk and its minimisation as a powerful rationality and organisational logic driving leadership practices in contemporary schools. It explores the impact of risk-consciousness on the work of school leaders with particular reference to the impact such risk-consciousness can have on their role in fostering a learning culture within schools. It then moves to examine how this risk-consciousness has fostered a new 'attentional economy' (Taylor, 2005) in which schools must be seen to perform, and to perform in ways that are measurable and rendered visible for all. Rationalities of risk now require principals as school managers to pay attention to, and require of others, the forensic work of making schools calculable (that is, auditable on pre-determined risk minimisation metrics). Such forensic work has its place in schools and, indeed, has improved professional practice in some areas, particularly related to student safety. The dissertation raises questions about the extent to which this calculability is becoming the dominant, even the only, leaderly imperative for school principals.

The dissertation positions the school as a risk organisation, and the strengths and limitations of that positioning are carefully examined. Carol Dweck's (1999) work on performance and learning goals provides a basis for an empirical analysis of the demands of school leadership. This analysis reveals the dominance of performance goals and the struggle experienced by the author, a school leader, in maintaining a balance between learning and performance, between being a risk-taker and a risk-minimiser, between being both appropriately accountable and socially responsible. It provides further evidence for the view developed through the dissertation that the dominant and prevailing negative logic of risk can overwhelm broader ethical responsibilities. The author argues strongly that proactive engagement with risk management underpinned by a positive logic of risk and focused, not on the imposition of ever-increasing controls, but on refining and improving judgement, offers new and more promising possibilities. A model for risk management is then presented which has a robust, flexible and systematic approach to risk management built on informed trust in professional human judgement. Such an approach, it is argued, may not only make the school safer but it may also provide a greater capacity to respond to opportunities to dare and to grow. School leaders are encouraged to move beyond risk minimisation to an educative approach to risk management in the interests of a dynamic learning environment.

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ID Code: 16377
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Supervisor: McWilliam, Erica & Taylor, Peter
Keywords: school principals, secondary schools, risk management, accountability, school leadership
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Department: Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Lee-Anne Perry
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 04:02
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:47

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