Establishing a school for gifted children: The interplay between the government regulatory requirements and the values and goals of the Governing Board in decision making

Author: Lynda McInnes

McInnes, Lynda, 2021 Establishing a school for gifted children: The interplay between the government regulatory requirements and the values and goals of the Governing Board in decision making, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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This research examines the interplay between values and aspirations of a group who established an independent school for gifted students and government regulations with which they had to comply. In particular, it examines the extent to which the group’s stance and goals were supported or constrained by Australian state and federal regulations they were required to work within and how this interplay impacted on decisions made.

Starting a special interest school is a nebulous and multifaceted process that must comply with the same general regulations as established schools (Mulford, 2004). On more than one occasion, schools that have sought to be innovative, or to address specific educational needs, have ended in failure as they struggled to balance their unique intent against government requirements (Tubin, 2008). In the study reported in this thesis, the initiating group found there was very little research literature or few resources regarding the development phase of an organisation to inform or guide them (Collier, 2001; Douglas, 2012; Nicholas, 2008).

An interpretive research approach was adopted, and data were generated from: (1) a retrospective document analysis, which included the minutes of the foundation group and board meetings (of the new school) as well as a reflective journal kept by the researcher during the establishment period; (2) rich picture interviews with key stakeholders; and (3) participant observation within an auto-ethnographic approach. Kotter’s (1996, p. 62) eight-step model of leading change was adopted as a conceptual framework to narrate the processes and stages of development and as a theoretical lens to inform the research analysis.

Key findings demonstrated that there were four distinct stages in the creation of a new innovative school, with each stage including distinctive ways of thinking and acting to meet changing needs throughout the process. It was found that, at the outset, development of a communicable vision and core values for the new school is critical, as it provided the basis for the foundation of the school and informed its distinctive new pedagogy. Over time, leadership played an increasingly important role in making decisions to ensure and establish structures and processes that were reflective of the vision and aligned with core values. Management was also an important element, providing momentum for continuing action and fostering motivation in moments of challenge. It was found that it is important for an initiating group to seek guidance from external experts in order to develop strategic, legal and financial plans. As development progressed, selecting people who were willing to be delegated specific responsibilities became more important, in order to distribute the increasing workload. For delegation to be successful, the leadership team had to be committed to delegate specific responsibilities to subgroups.

This research generated knowledge derived from a retrospective analysis. It is, therefore, possible to imagine that the process of establishing this school would have benefitted significantly if this kind of knowledge had been accessible at the start of the process: it would have assisted those involved in the development of the school to be more reflexive and self-critical. Although grounded in the unique context of one new school, it is anticipated that the understandings generated in this thesis will have an application to others taking on a similar challenge beyond the context of this research and beyond those involved in the ongoing development of the school.

Keywords: Gifted Education, governance, new school, regulations, Education Standards Board

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Professional Doctorate
Completed: 2021
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Professor Janice Orrell