Stories of female special school headteachers and their experience of headship: an interpretative phenomenological analysis

COSTELLO, Amanda Jane (2020). Stories of female special school headteachers and their experience of headship: an interpretative phenomenological analysis. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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Leadership positions in special schools are becoming increasingly difficult to fill and there is a significant gap in the literature on special school leadership in general. This gap in the research includes a focus on the life stories of female headteachers in these settings and situated within a constructivist paradigm. Taking a narrative approach, this study will explore the life stories of female special school headteachers, building on an understanding of their leadership journey in order to potentially act as an inspiration to others. Detailing different aspects of the special school headteachers’ experiences, the themes highlighted the complexity of the women’s impressions of special school headship, the heterogeneity among the special school headteacher stories and the importance of critical reflection within their journey. Unstructured interviews were conducted with six participants. All interview transcripts were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Three subordinate themes emerged from the data: ‘managing constraint’, ‘motivating forces’ and ‘perceptions of special school headship and the future’. Drawing on Giddens’ theory of social forces and his belief about the primacy of human knowledgeability over social forces, and also Margaret Archer’s theory of reflexivity as an intercessor between structural forces and human agency, this thesis proposes three types of special school headteacher: ‘the strategic and decisive leader’, ‘the values-orientated professional’ and ‘the person-centred educator’. These ideal types illustrate the heterogeneous ways in which a small sample of women special school headteachers had reflected on, positioned themselves towards and navigated their way through the career challenges in special education. This typology together with the nuanced analysis advanced throughout this thesis offers a unique contribution to knowledge. The varying inferences for special school practice 4 and research were discussed and I conclude by arguing that the underrepresentation of women in special school headship is a complex situation, and the stories of special school headteachers merit a place at the centre of our theorising and understanding of it. The findings reported in this thesis may be of interest to potential special school headteacher aspirants, as well as those tasked with identifying and training future special school leaders.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Owen, David
Additional Information: Director of studies: David Owen
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Identification Number:
Depositing User: Colin Knott
Date Deposited: 21 Dec 2020 17:14
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2021 01:18

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