From 'campus to context' : a post-course investigation into the implementation of work-based projects in a university-based professional development qualification

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The Advanced Certificate in Education-School Leadership qualification (ACE-SL) is a post-graduate qualification which focuses on the professional development of the school leader as change agent. This study attempts to broaden the understanding of school improvement inherent in this assumption. It does so through an investigation of influences exerted by external and internal school contexts to constrain or facilitate a school's ability to effect change. The study employs a realist methodology (which views the social world as comprising both subjective and objective features) and specifically employs on realist evaluative theory to investigate 'mechanisms of change' that were introduced into five primary schools when principals implemented their ACE-SL work-based projects on school discipline in 2009. The study, which was undertaken in 2012, offers an explanation as to how and why interventions were sustained and enhanced in the three-year interim period, or why not. The findings and a pattern analysis show how important it is to take contextual factors into consideration when trying to understand what triggers change. Successful achievement of an intervention's outcomes cannot be ascribed only to individual leadership competency. Causality needs to be understood in terms of a relation between the contexts of implementation and the generative mechanisms employed. It is this combination that triggers action that leads to change. Conclusions drawn provide a basis for returning to the ACE-SL as an educational progamme to offer some suggestions as to how a school leadership and management progamme can take better account of the need for forms of reflective practice that understand that transformational leadership is not about an individual but about dealing with the constraints of context.