A comparative study of new senior school leader perceptions of development programmes in the United Arab Emirates and South Africa
Vice-principals and principals play an essential role in school leadership teams, and the development programmes in which they participate to ensure effective Strategic Leadership in schools, have been the subject of intense debate for many years. Employing a mixed-method case study approach, this study examines and compares the perceptions, roles and responsibilities of newly appointed senior school leaders in two country contexts, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Specifically, it explores the professional development opportunities that newly appointed senior school leaders in Abu Dhabi, UAE and the Western Cape, South Africa, have been exposed to. It further investigates the particular professional development needs of these senior school leaders. This study uses Critical Realism theory as a philosophical lens through which to explore the perceptions of newly appointed senior school leaders on their roles, responsibilities, competencies and developmental needs. A comparative case study approach with qualitative and quantitative techniques was employed, and comprised of three elements. Firstly, a detailed questionnaire survey was administered at Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) and the Western Cape Education Department (WCED). Secondly, follow-up interviews were conducted with 25 per cent of the respondents for clarification and to establish the accuracy of data collected during the first phase. Finally, semi-structured interviews were conducted with officials from both ADEC and the WCED to gather further contextual data for each case. The main study findings confirm that as senior school leaders transition into their roles at ADEC and the WCED they require distinctive support in a variety of ways. It was found in both systems for instance that the training programmes are not appropriately designed, delivered, and aligned to the perceived needs of the respondents, and that they need appropriate and more contextualised, individualised, in-office support once appointed. The study's findings are consistent with the literature that newly appointed senior school leaders welcome support from mentors and role models but require to a lesser extent formal courses. They confirmed the current gap between the perceived needs of newly appointed senior school leaders and the current development programmes provided to support them, and identified a clear shortfall in their current competencies.