Principals' understandings of aspects of the law impacting on the administration of Catholic schools: Aome implications for leadership


McCann, Paul. (2006). Principals' understandings of aspects of the law impacting on the administration of Catholic schools: Aome implications for leadership [Thesis].
AuthorsMcCann, Paul
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

This study explored the interface between the leadership of Catholic schools and the legal framework of the social/cultural context of Australian Society. Specifically, the study investigated the legal issues impacting on Catholic schools, principals' understandings of these legal issues and the sources used in gaining these understandings. The congruency between these understandings and the current interpretations of areas of the law were also examined, along with the influence legal issues have on principals; in particular, their perceptions of how these legal issues relate to carrying out their leadership roles aligned with the characteristics and ethos of the Catholic school. In this overall context, the influence of a number of variables such as school complexity, location, and primary and secondary school environments was also examined. The study commenced with an examination of the development of Catholic schools within the Australian social/cultural context, an exploration of leadership as it relates to Catholic schools and a survey of the literature indicating the scope and nature of the legal matters impacting on schools within the Australian legal framework. To gather data relevant to the purposes of the study, a Survey Questionnaire was constructed and distributed to principals of all systemic Catholic schools administered by the Brisbane Catholic Education Centre. The quantitative and qualitative data provided via this instrument was supplemented and corroborated by information gathered through discussions, observations, and reference to documentation and records. The findings of the study confirmed that Catholic schools were involved with a wide range of legal issues, involvement being more pronounced in some areas than others, and like all legal issues within the Australian social/cultural context, those impacting on schools were subject to regular renewal and development.;In relation to the latter, participants identified emerging areas of the law which were starting to have an impact on their schools. Principals' overall understandings of current interpretations of legal issues were not of a high standard. However, some understandings, particularly relating to statue law were more accurate than understandings of common law issues. Principals used a wide range of sources to gain legal understandings, and interactions with fellow principals and personnel within the Brisbane Catholic Education System who supported and supervised principals, featured prominently. However, access for principals to designated legal practitioners for advice on legal matters was a need revealed. Involvement of principals in formal and less formal professional learning experiences relating to legal matters was limited, and participation did not have a significant influence on developing more accurate understandings of legal issues. Nevertheless, the need for continued personal and professional learning with regard to legal issues was highlighted by this study, especially considering the continued renewal and development of the law, and the stress created by the lack of legal understandings. The findings indicated legal matters were having a large impact on Catholic schools; 90% of participants experienced stress associated with legal matters, and 70% saw this as an increasing phenomena. While a number of variables inter-relate to form a cumulative effect contributing to stress, participants ranked the most prominent source of stress as lack of legal knowledge. The impact of legal matters was not confined to addressing legal matters per se, but a constant threat of legalism overshadowing principals in their leadership roles. Overall, there was a high compatibility between the ethos of the Catholic school and the resolutions reached, and the process used in coming to a resolution of legal matters.;However, participants were more confident in their perceptions of a high compatibility with the resolutions reached than with the processes used.No one variable examined, had an overall significant influence on the understandings, involvement and impact of legal issues on the leadership of Catholic schools. However, a number of significant relationships were identified with particular aspects of the study. Surprisingly, the study did not reveal a significant relationship between the length of time spent as a principal in a Catholic school and the accuracy of understandings of legal issues impacting on schools. It was suggested that the development of principals' understandings of legal issues could be closely related to the continued personal and professional learning and growth of leaders within Catholic schools, particularly within School Leadership Teams. Suggestions to support this growth and learning were offered as part of the overall development of leadership within Catholic schools.

PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupSchool of Educational Leadership
Final version
Publication dates01 Jan 2006
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