The Challenges of Distributing Leadership in Irish Post-Primary Schools

Margaret O’DONOVAN


This study explores the challenges and opportunities in relation to developing distributed leadership practice in Irish post-primary schools. It considers school leadership within the context of contemporary distributed leadership theory. Associated concepts such as distributed cognition and activity theory are used to frame the study. The study is situated in a space which acknowledges the current complex reality in our schools, where school leadership is characterised by increased workload and an ever-expanding role-definition. Drawing on the empirical findings from semi-structured interviews conducted with principals, deputy principals, post of responsibility holders and teachers in three case-study schools, the study probes: (1) how school leaders (re)construct a form of leadership suited to the needs of the current reality, by exploring their leadership and management styles; (2) how the internal conditions are created in which distributed leadership can function; (3) the challenges posed by distributed leadership and how they might be overcome. The findings clarify that school leadership is a construct beyond the scope of the principal alone. While there is widespread support for a distributed model of leadership, the concept does not explicitly form part of the discourse in the case-study schools. This poses challenges for school leaders and policy-makers to put mechanisms in place to re-culture schools, to develop teacher-leadership capacity and to reflect on the future direction of leadership in Irish post-primary schools.


Leadership, Distributed leadership, Distributed cognition, Activity theory, Case study, Policy, Irish post-primary schools, Discourse.

Paper Details

Paper Details
Topic Irish Education
Pages 243 - 266
Issue IEJEE, Volume 8, Issue 2, Special Issue: Contemporary Irish Education
Read (times) 759
Downloaded (times) 480

Author(s) Details

Margaret O’DONOVAN

University College Cork, Ireland


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