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Middle Leader - Research by Masters Students

Introduction by Mary Nihil

Director - CSL Ireland
Please watch the video of the launch of the Middle Leadership Research Project.

Name and Title


Link to research

My Title

Enhancing Student Creativity: An Exploratory Study of the Views and Experiences of School Leaders

Ciarán Collins

University of Limerick

This research inquiry is an exploratory study on the views and experiences of School Leaders (SL) on the enhancement of student creativity. Creativity has been growing in importance for educators in recent years, as the world that students of today will enter as adults is one characterized by rapid and constant change. It is in this context that a focus on creativity has emerged in Irish government policies and initiatives in the educational and cultural domains, which include the aim of increasing opportunities for young people to develop their creativity. As well as this investment, the government invests in a model of distributed leadership in primary and post-primary schools that encourages SLs to view schools as learning organisations, where school improvements can be brought about by internal school review, to improve students’ learning. It is a model that puts SLs at the centre of leading teaching, learning and school development in their schools. The research used an interpretivist qualitative method of semi-structured interviews, to gather the views and experiences of school leaders, on enhancing student creativity in their schools. 14 were interviewed, seven primary and seven post-primary, including principals, deputy principals and assistant principals. Thematic analysis was used to analyze the data that was produced, and this yielded three overarching themes, which each had three subthemes. While SLs greatly value the enhancement of creativity, there was considerable variation in SL’s conception of what creativity is and how it can be fostered in schools. Those SLs who, in their education or pastimes, had a background in creativity appeared to be the most confident, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable in the promotion of creativity in their schools. Many SLs, while having very valuable insights in the area, had preconceptions about creativity that are misaligned with accepted conceptions of creativity in the literature. Creative partnerships, where artists partner with teachers or schools were reported by the minority of SLs who had an experience of them as being positive and culturally transformative. SLs felt there was inconsistency across the curricula where enhancing student creativity is concerned, with, according to most SLs, the Established Leaving Certificate leaving very little scope for student creativity, outside of arts or practical subjects.

My Title

Leading students and educators towards a democratic school culture: “listen attentively, respond appropriately, take action"

Aoife Fleming

University College Dublin

The central focus of this study is an exploration of teacher and school leader perspectives on student voice and participation in post-primary schools in Ireland. The research aims to understand how leadership influences and shapes student participation in schools. The research traces the trajectory for the movement towards increased student voice and participation at second-level in Ireland, beginning with Article 12 of the UNCRC in 1989, and explores models of participation which are promoted in the literature. Democratic and distributed leadership models are considered with a lens on facilitation of student voice and participation. A qualitative approach was taken; interviews were held with seven participants from different case sites. The conclusions evidence varying practice across pedagogic practices within individuals’ classrooms, and a wide variety of whole-school practices. Additionally, the value of tokenism is explored, along with the influence of teacher agency in shaping students’ capacities for voice and participation.

My Title

Can collaborative practice contribute to developing a culture of distributive leadership in an Irish primary school?

Rosemarie Lawlor

University of Limerick

The purpose of the study is to explore if collaborative practice can contribute to developing a culture of distributed leadership practice in an Irish primary school. The study 2 considers the perspectives of principals, assistant principals and non-post holder teachers currently working in an Irish primary school context. The researcher engaged with semistructured interviews to gather the viewpoints of the respondents lending to situating the research study in the interpretivist paradigm. The data set was then analysed using the Braun and Clarke 6-phase guide to thematic analysis. Three themes emerged from the thematic analysis, namely teacher collaboration, collaborative practice and leadership. The three themes were underpinned by varying subthemes. The findings revealed that a top-down leadership model was pertinent to establishing and sustaining collaboration and distributed leadership in a primary school setting. In addition the findings acknowledged that collaboration in both a formal and informal sense is evident in the Irish primary school context. Furthermore, it was apparent from the findings that the development of leadership skills from collaborative practice benefited the school community. The evidence also highlighted challenges and barriers that can hinder the development and sustainment of collaborative practice in a primary school environment. As the research study was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was evident from the findings that the respondents advocated the need for collaboration between teachers at that time. Although the project is a small scale research project, value can be attributed to the findings. The project raises key issues that could contribute to policy, practice and further research.

My Title

School Leaders’ Experiences of Racism in Irish Post-Primary Schools

Sorcha Mellon

University of Limerick

The last two decades have seen rapid societal change in Ireland. Communities that were once largely homogenous have become increasingly racially diverse, leaving School Leaders struggling to know how best to respond. It is widely acknowledged that school administrators can have a decisive effect on racist and anti-racist practices in their respective schools (Gillborn, 1995; Ryan, 2003). Despite often having good intentions, School Leaders are increasingly overwhelmed (O’Donovan, 2015) and may find it challenging to manage competing priorities. The purpose of this research is to gain an insight into School Leaders’ experiences of Racism in Irish Post-Primary schools. This study seeks to understand how School Leaders have experienced increasing racial diversity and incidents of Racism within their own school contexts. It will consider how equipped leaders feel in managing Race-related issues and what support if any is available to them to upskill and engage with professional development in this area. The qualitative, constructionist approach was employed in this research study as a critical lens through which the lived experience of School Leaders could be considered. The researcher conducted eight semi-structured interviews with a range of Post-Primary School Leaders. The data set was then analysed using the Braun and Clarke six phase guide to thematic analysis. The findings of this study indicate that limited understandings of racial identity and of Whiteness function in Irish schools to support the existing hegemonic structures of systemic and institutional Racism. This directly impacts on the educational experiences of ethnic minority students. The findings also indicated that there is little to no support available for School Leaders grappling with these issues and illustrated the importance of appropriate professional support and leadership from organizations that work with teachers and School Leaders. There is evidence to suggest that when leaders understand what Racism is, they are in a better position to tackle it in their school and lead action towards Anti-Racism (Miller, 2021). Although this is a small-scale research project, value can be attributed to the findings. This study raises key issues and draws attention to the need for additional training and support on Anti-Racism for School Leaders in Irish schools.

My Title

On the cusp of change: An insight into the use of a Negotiated Integrated Curriculum to promote Student Voice in an Irish Post-Primary School.

Nancy O’ Connor

Mary Immaculate College, Thurles

The objective of this research is to gain an insight into the implementation student voice through a Negotiated Integrated Curriculum. The findings from the research have informed the creation of an emerging framework to guide the implementation of student voice through a Negotiated Integrated Curriculum. The research is positioned within the interpretivist paradigm to gain an insight into the perspectives of students and teachers in my school. A mixed method approach was adopted involving focus group interviews, student concept maps, teacher surveys and personal researcher journal entries. The findings of the research showed that the use of student voice contributes to a greater overall wellbeing in students through a sense of belonging and increased confidence in the class. It showed that relationships with students and the use of dialogue encourage positive interactions and enable student voice. The misconceptions around student voice were identified and developed an insight into the perspectives of teachers and students in my school. Student voice is not a single event but should be embedded in everyday practice. It is informed by key policies such as the UN Convention for the Rights of a Child and the new Junior Cycle Framework. The promotion of key skills and communication also help to incorporate student voice and cognitive development in class and this is underpinned by the objectives of a Negotiated Integrated Curriculum. The implementation of student voice is challenged by the demand to cover course content at senior cycle, the emotions of teachers and feelings of overwhelm that can arise due to time restraints in classes and unprecedented times such as Covid-19. 

My Title

SENCOs in the Middle: A qualitative study of Irish primary school SENCOs on their perceived role and position.

Christine Sheehan

Mary Immaculate College,
University of Limerick

There is a distinct lack of clarity and insights about and among SENCOs in Ireland in relation to their role and their position within schools. This dissertation explores the perspectives of Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCO) on their respective roles and positions in Irish primary mainstream schools. A qualitative study comprising of semi-structured interviews with nine SENCOs was conducted. The varying aspects of the SENCO’s role and position are indicated in the findings which capture the role as multi-faceted with evidence to suggest an ever-increasing emphasis on the operational over the pedagogical or strategic nature of the role. The importance of the role and its position is highlighted by the study where relationships with others in the school are at the heart of what the SENCO does(role) and is allowed to do (position). A requirement for the development of leadership skills and greater formal recognition of the role is also presented. Insufficient time and lack of leadership training emerge as barriers to the SENCO enacting their role. This study confirms previous research findings that highlight the importance of the SENCO role and position, while also proposing that the role be more formally recognised and supported.

CSL is funded by the Teacher Education Section (TES) of the Department of Education (DE)
This service is managed by Clare Education Centre.