Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Researching the Principalship in the African Context: A Critical Literature Review

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Researching the Principalship in the African Context: A Critical Literature Review

Article excerpt


Over the last two decades, the field of education globally has been characterised by a surge in reform policies and intensive change. The focus of educational transformation, amongst others, has been on issues such as access to education including curriculum access, education outcomes, teacher professional development, decentralisation of governance, education quality and accountability, equity in education, school improvement and the development of effective schools and education financing (Cheng, 2011; World Bank, 2007). However, debates over the most suitable leadership of educational institutions have dominated these reforms (Bottery, 2005; Christie, 2010). The pivotal role of the school principal has been highlighted in research globally (Rice, 2010; Sharma, 2015).

Effective schools research has shown that good principals influence a variety of school outcomes such as student achievement, motivation of quality teachers, well-articulated school vision and goals, effective allocation of resources, the development of organizational structures to support instruction and learning as well as emotional well-being of staff (Rice, 2010; Louis, Dretzke & Wahlstrom, 2010). However, major debates have been influenced largely by perspectives from countries of the North. It has been often assumed that the western model and practices of leadership are universal (Martin, 2007). Oplatka (2004) states categorically that the structures of educational systems throughout the world differ and in view of the extensive cultural diversity in relation to education and schooling, there is a need to study the principalship in different national contexts.

Against this background, the need for greater insight into published research on the principalship in the African context became evident. The aim of this article is to provide a systematic review of research on the principalship in the African context, drawing on English language literature. In addition to synthesising the available knowledge base, the review critically examines empirical studies in terms of their aims and foci, their research methodologies and designs, and key findings. The implications of this review for future research are foregrounded. The following research questions were explored: How can current research on the principalship in the African context be characterized? What are the implications of a critical review for future research?

Search Strategy

This review draws on published peer-reviewed empirical studies in the last 6 years (2009-2014). Both quantitative and qualitative studies were included. The search was confined to studies published in the English language, and emanating from the African context. Grey literature was not included.

Studies were largely identified using keyword searches of electronic databases. Databases sourced were Advanced Google Scholar, Academic Search Premier (EBSCOHost), Educational Resources Information Centre (ERIC) and Wilson Web. The data base, South African ePublications, was accessed specifically to source publications in South African journals. The keywords used in the search initially were 'school principal', 'principalship', 'head teacher', 'school head" and "school leader'. During the search process, it was soon evident that these key words produced a limited number of articles. The search strategy was then extended to include the key words 'educational leadership' and 'educational management'. The focus of studies had to be on the 'principalship'. Reference lists of all articles were examined to identify further relevant studies. All identified abstracts were evaluated against the inclusion and exclusion criteria set. The literature search strategy yielded a total of 19 peer reviewed journal articles that met the criteria for inclusion, and formed the basis of this critical review.


The results of the literature review are outlined in the following sections. Firstly, an analysis of the research methodologies and design of the studies is presented. …

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