The social justice agency of secondary school headteachers

Jefferys, Christine (2022) The social justice agency of secondary school headteachers. Other thesis, London Metropolitan University.

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Abstract / Description

This study explores the nature and scope of headteacher agency for social justice within aneo-liberal political landscape and market-driven education system. It sets out to bothexpand and disrupt ways in which the possibilities and limits of school leadership agency areunderstood by examining how headteachers discursively construct social justice and howthis influences the way social justice is understood and enacted within two Englishsecondary schools.The findings of the study are based on qualitative research, using data collected frominterviews with seven headteachers and an ethnographic study of two secondary schools.Using a post-structuralist lens and drawing on Foucauldian understandings of power,notably theories of dispositif and heterotopia, the thesis interrogates how agonisticprofessional agency operates within a multi-paradigmatic organisational space ofcontradictory, nuanced and intertwined axiological discourses.While the interviews with headteachers illustrated tensions between neo-liberal andcommunitarian visions of school effectiveness, the thesis argues that headteacher agencyfor social justice cannot be understood as a simple binary between neo-liberal work andsocial justice work. The ethnographic studies demonstrated how, within the neo-liberal‘regimes of truth’ that governed the parameters of their agency, headteachers' personalcultures of social justice had legitimacy and discursive power in shaping distinctive,heterotopic, educational spaces that re-ordered ‘the local’ and ‘the global’. Within thesespaces, headteachers preserved, protected, nourished and cultivated a range of socialjustice practices that contributed to both the affirmative and transformative forms ofagency proposed in Fraser’s paradigm of social justice (1997). Most notably, in questioningthe extent to which the agency of headteachers reproduced or challenged structuralinequities within education and wider society, my findings suggest that affective socialjustice is a pivotal discourse in refusing the dominance of market-oriented subjectification.
2I hope the study will inform new conversations about headteachers’ role as civic andeducational leaders who are producers as well as receivers of national education discourse;structural reformers as well as system leaders.

Item Type: Thesis (Other)
Uncontrolled Keywords: headteachers; school leadership; agency; social justice; secondary school; education system
Subjects: 300 Social sciences
300 Social sciences > 370 Education
Department: School of Social Sciences and Professions
Depositing User: Chiara Repetto
Date Deposited: 09 Mar 2023 16:09
Last Modified: 09 Mar 2023 16:09


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