Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Cloning Their Own: Aspirant Principals and the School-Based Selection Game

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Cloning Their Own: Aspirant Principals and the School-Based Selection Game

Article excerpt

In this article, we report data from two projects concerned with the aspirant principals' perspectives about school principal recruitment in three Australian states. In particular, we consider what our informants perceive as factors that inhibit the realisation of their aspirations. These factors include aspects of the operation of school-based processes of application and selection. Principal aspirants regard selection as a game that works to the advantage of internal applicants for advertised vacancies. We analyse a number of dimensions of the selection game and we liken the bias towards internal candidates as a form of personnel cloning. Finally, we consider some possible explanations for this practice and review its wider significance in respect of the themes of risks, risk-taking and risk aversion in employment recruitment.


employment status

labour utilisation

employment opportunities

occupational surveys

labour market

promotion (occupational)


   It cannot be supposed ... that a bureaucracy operating in an
   environment which is dangerous to it or is regarded as such,
   which is surrounded by earthly foes or perceives itself as
   encircled by dangerous supernatural forces, will give the
   recruitment of expert personnel a more salient place than the
   reinforcement of loyalty (Gouldner, 1958, pp. 465-6).

In this article, we discuss an emerging trend in leadership replenishment which has surfaced in the data from two research projects. This trend is the increased predilection of government primary and secondary schools in some Australian states in the making of appointments to advertised principal class vacancies to nominate internal applicants, that is, candidates from within the school, in preference to external applicants. We characterise this trend as a form of role cloning; hence the notion of 'cloning their own'. By cloning we do not have in mind the employment of personnel who literally replicate their departing predecessors in temperament, attributes, skills and styles; rather, we are attempting to capture the idea that schools are tending to play safe by choosing one of their own. That is, the selection panels that act on behalf of schools and their communities are seeking to ensure that the persons to whom they accord senior level responsibilities are known, as distinct from unknown, quantifies. This tendency is a way of seeking to guarantee that new appointees fit a preferred mould, or are deemed able to be moulded, the assumption being that such moulding is more likely to occur if appointees come from within the school where they may have already been socialised in preferred ways in prior lead-up roles consistent with the overall leadership culture of a school. One of our aspirant informants (A#9) summed this expectation up rather pithily as follows:

   I think that ... asking people to be so concise [in preparing
   their written applications] schools are essentially saying:
   'We are really not interested in taking any chances. We know
   exactly what it is that we want and so we will just go through
   this process.'

Another aspirant believed that, in wider circumstances of relative career immobility for teachers, such 'looking after your own' is both inevitable and desirable (A#10):

   People are always going to try and support their own staff
   [members] if they think they are good. I would hope that would
   always be the case. If your staff [members] have served your
   school well, then you are not going to treat them poorly,

Our hypothesis is that while this trend may be discounted as an atypical outcome of school-based selection policies and procedures, it might also be viewed more pertinently as a deliberate risk aversive strategy by schools, the intention of which is to avoid any undesirable outcomes of local selection. …

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