Principal’s perspectives on improving the quality of schools for students with complex needs

Dr Megan Adams (Senior Lecturer), Faculty of Education, Monash University
Dr Rebecca Cooper (Senior Lecturer), Faculty of Education, Monash University
A/Prof Angela Fitzgerald (Adjunct), Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts, University of Southern Queensland, Queensland, Australia
Dr Sindu George (Senior Lecturer), Faculty of Education and Arts, Australian Catholic University
Prof Richard Gunstone (Emeritus),Faculty of Education, Monash University

Meeting the learning needs of all youth is a challenging endeavour, particularly with the rise in number of students with mental health concerns. In Australia, there is a growing need for school leadership to provide alternate educational pathways for such students, pathways that prioritise building reciprocal teacher/student relationships, before focusing on academic achievements. Drawing on Edwards’ (2010;2017) theoretical concepts of ‘relational expertise’, ‘common knowledge’ and ‘relational agency’, we report on data generated from a focus group with eight Principals leading schools that work with diverse cohorts of disengaged students. Analysis identified the challenges, barriers and the opportunities available to improve the learning of students with complex needs. We argue that the Principals face significant demands, particularly with staff recruitment and retention, as teachers are required to balance learning/teaching and welfare, and involve parents and external support services. Collectively these impact on student achievement in different ways than in mainstream schools.

Student needs, Disengagement, School improvement, Leadership

Edwards, A. (2010). Being an Expert Professional Practitioner: The Relational Turn in Expertise. Dordrecht: Springer.

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