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Re-thinking staff management in independent schools: an exploration of a human resource management approach

Roberts, Susan Ann (2007) Re-thinking staff management in independent schools: an exploration of a human resource management approach. Professional Doctorate thesis, Murdoch University.

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While the mission and 'core business' of schools has always been directed towards the education and pastoral support of the children, the staff who work to fulfil the mission and business have received less attention. With recent media reporting on anticipated teacher shortages, pedagogical issues and the quality of teaching the focus has shifted to the staff in schools. With evidence linking student achievements and academic outcomes to teacher impact, recruitment and retention have become significant issues, particularly in independent schools where parental expectations are high. Expertise in relation to human resource (HR) activities such as recruitment and retention, staff management and staff development, however, is not well developed in schools. This study therefore seeks to explore and understand staff management using a framework based on human resource management (HRM). It also examines the recent trend of appointing dedicated Human Resource (HR) practitioners to independent schools and the reasons behind these appointments.

A qualitative research approach was adopted in order to better understand the issues and reveal the complexity that surrounds them. In all, seven independent schools were purposely selected from urban Western Australia, and the principals, finance directors and HR practitioners from these schools were interviewed to gain their perspectives. The conceptual framework draws on the business-derived human resource management (HRM) and the HR activities within this domain. The analytical framework used was that of the 'hard'/ 'soft' duality contained within HRM, which allowed tensions, such as that between 'independent schools as businesses' and independent schools as 'communities with heart', to be highlighted and examined.

The interviews revealed a broad understanding and knowledge by respondents of HR activities considered 'necessary' for the recruitment, and the day-to day management of staff, including remuneration, and to some extent, induction and performance management systems. Most revealing in these schools was the lack of structure and strategy in the implementation of the various HR activities and ways to work through the hard/soft duality. By way of contrast, the HR practitioners appointed to five of the independent schools had a broad based knowledge of all HR activities and were attempting to 'educate' those in schools about HRM and what the function, collectively applied, could do for them. They encountered entrenched attitudes and, in some schools, resistance caused by misunderstandings associated with both the role and function.

The thesis concludes with implications and recommendations for independent school leaders on the application of HRM in their schools. By re-thinking the paradigm of staff management in this way, and through the adoption of a systematic and holistic approach using the suite of HR activities, both hard and soft, the research points to the potential for improvements in the quality of teaching staff recruited and retained, and ultimately also in student outcomes.

Item Type: Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
Supervisor(s): MacCallum, Judy and Wright, Peter
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