Academic journal article Planning and Changing

The Principal's Role in Marketing the School: Subjective Interpretations and Personal Influences

Academic journal article Planning and Changing

The Principal's Role in Marketing the School: Subjective Interpretations and Personal Influences

Article excerpt


The introduction of school choice programs into the educational systems of many Western countries throughout the 1980s and 1990s (Cookson, 1994; Levin, 2001; Lubienski, 2005; Nir, 2003; Oplatka, 2002) has led to more competitive environments for schools. In this kind of environment, a school (especially junior and senior high) has to face considerable competition from other schools for funds, resources, examination success, pupils, and public esteem. In Israel, many schools are compelled to compete for new pupils and funding if they want to survive financially. In large cities (e.g., Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa) the competitors are other urban schools due to the right given to parents to choose their child's junior high school and high school. In other areas, the competitors might be magnet schools (e.g., Kibbutzim schools, holistic schools, and democratic schools), private schools, community schools, and so forth.

To survive in this new environment, many schools have given an increased priority to the marketing of their programs and activities (Foskett, 2002; Hanson, 1996). They were found to incorporate various forms of marketing perspective into their strategy in order to successfully recruit students in the new competitive environment (Foskett, 2002; James & Philips, 1995; Levin, 2001 ; Oplatka, 2002) as well as to increase their public image in their community. These new functions and emphases, however, have not been without criticism. Ball (1993), for example, presents the introduction of school choice to education as a "mechanism of class reproduction" that legitimates and reinforces the "relative advantages of the middle and upper classes within state education" (p. 13). The strategic processes of choice systematically disadvantage working class families but benefit middle class groups (Gewirtz, Ball, & Bowe, 1995). Furthermore, the search for efficiency in education that underlies the school choice process seems to be in sharp contrast to other educational goals (e.g., democracy, equality), pushing schools in opposite directions (Labaree, 1997).

The literature on educational marketing to date has been concerned with the ways by which schools market and promote themselves in the community (DeZarn, 1998; Foskett, 2002; James & Philips, 1995; Lauder & Hughes, 1999; Oplatka, 2002, 2007; Oplatka, Hemsley-Brown & Foskett, 2002), their strategies to maintain and enhance their image (Grace, 1995; Hanson, 1996), and the factors affecting parents and children and the processes they undergo when choosing their junior high and high school (Foskett & Hemsley-Brown, 2001; Maddaus, 1990; Oplatka, 2003; Powers & Cookson, 1999). Yet, there remains a paucity of research on principals' patterns of involvement in the marketing and image-building of their schools, and on the potential impact of these new managerial activities on principals' careers and well-being.

To fill the gap in this respect, the current study aimed at providing insight into principals' subjective interpretations of their role in marketing their schools, and the meanings they attach to issues of school marketing and school image-building. More specifically, two questions merit highlighting: (a) What is the place given to role tasks related to marketing and image-building in the principalship; and (b) What is the perceived impact of marketing on principals' careers and well-being?

Understanding principals' perspectives towards their roles and responsibilities over the domain of school marketing may shed light on changes in the construction of the principalship in competitive education environments, as well as help policymakers and school governors in planning the degree of principals' involvement in the implementation of school choice programs in schools. It is widely accepted that any policy that ignores its subjectively-held influences upon principals (and teachers as well) may fail, for principals (with their staffs) are both the protagonists and the performers in any educational reform (Newton & Zeitoun, 2003; Tubin, 2007). …

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