The changing nature and the role of heads of department in Queensland public secondary schools

Rosenfeld, Peter (2008) The changing nature and the role of heads of department in Queensland public secondary schools. Professional Doctorate thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


In the last decade of the 20th century, organizational change in public service provision in Queensland impacted broadly upon the culture of public education. The focus of this thesis was to describe the effects of that change on the role of heads of department in public secondary schools. The approach taken was to examine those change effects, in the light of policy documents, and from the perspective of participants, that is heads of department and principals. The thesis also described the changing skills the emerging role appeared to demand and to draw implications for professional development. The thesis is a descriptive multi case study. The principal and two heads of department from each of four public secondary schools in South East Queensland took part in the study. Data were collected through policy documents and semi structured interviews. The study employed Leonard-Barton's (1995) methodology which blended real time and a longitudinal study. To that end, two heads of department were reinterviewed four years after the initial interviews. Interviews focused upon the role, change, and the importance of leadership.
The research generated eight specific themes each of which was considered consistent with the nature of the role in a period of significant cultural change. These were the difference in perceptions regarding the head of department role, held by principals and heads of department; head of department leadership in terms of a curriculum framed department, or whole school leadership; how individuals perceived leadership, and how they learned of leadership; the impact of the changing culture upon the individual head of department; the growing influence of situational factors upon the role; the impact of managerialism; the changing nature of a secondary school department; and a growing and more complex workload, and the need for different skills. The themes painted a picture of a long established role within a process of evolution. While broad cultural change underpinned change in the role, it was the change process, and the consequent structural and organizational change that individuals in the study focused upon. Consistent with the literature on heads of department and change, the study indicated a gap between the skills that the emerging role demanded, particularly leadership and management skills, and those skills which heads of department possessed. A need for a broad range professional development to bridge that gap was evident. The findings also pointed towards the need for effective change processes and a reconceptualized head of department role. The study concluded with recommendations for future research. Particular focus was directed towards the nature and function of secondary school departments, and the consequent role of the heads of department. Potential exists for research that further explores the effect of cultural change upon individuals, particularly heads of department, in the area of public education.

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ID Code: 17574
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Supervisor: Ehrich, Lisa, Cranston, Neil, & Keefe, Mary
Keywords: Queensland public secondary schools, roles, heads of department
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Cultural & Professional Learning
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 06 Feb 2009 05:08
Last Modified: 25 Mar 2013 08:18

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