Exploring Leadership in the Frame of Prescriptions and Systemic Expectations: A Case of Government Boys Secondary School in Delhi

Date01 March 2021
Published date01 March 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Exploring Leadership
in the Frame of
Prescriptions and
Systemic Expectations:
A Case of Government
Boys Secondary School
in Delhi
Jyoti Arora1 and Kashyapi Awasthi2
The words autonomy, power and leadership have always been debated, espe-
cially when it comes to government setup where roles and responsibilities largely
are top-down. The article explores leadership practices and autonomy exercised
by the school leader within the frame of prescribed roles and responsibilities and
accountability structures. The study is a case of Government Secondary School
in Delhi, India, and follows a qualitative research design. Document analysis for
studying the prescribed roles, and ‘shadowing of principal’ to understand the
practiced roles, were the key aspects of research design. The article takes a
dig at the prescribed roles and responsibilities that limit the school leader to
being an administrative head. It further makes a case wherein the school leader,
through the creative use of leadership agency, redefines school leadership as an
action to influence quality of teaching–learning at school rather than a bureauc-
ratised position that manages the day-to-day affairs.
School leadership, roles and responsibilities, prescriptive frame, autonomy
Indian Journal of Public
67(1) 96–116, 2021
© 2021 IIPA
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/00195561211016300
1 National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi,
2 National Centre for School Leadership, National University of Educational Planning and
Administration, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Jyoti Arora, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, Sri Aurobindo Marg,
New Delhi 110016, India.
E-mail: jyoti.arora0103@gmail.com
Arora and Awasthi 97
There is a continuous change in societal aspirations which gets reflected in the
expectations from schools. The role of principals has evolved in the past few
decades. They are no longer seen solely as administrators or managers of the
school. Today, the principals ‘must accept the responsibility to manage personnel,
funds, and strategic planning’ as well as be ‘instructional leaders’ whereby they
‘maintain the responsibility for the learning of all students, including students
with differential needs’ (Lynch, 2012). This requires a shift from being just admin-
istrators and/or managers to effective leaders who are able to navigate through the
multiple roles and responsibilities and are responsible for school improve-
ment. But they sometimes face role confusion or role conflict, especially in terms
of prioritising between systemic and/or administrative demands and a commit-
ment towards ‘transforming schools’. The dilemma is also a result of the lack of
clarity over new job roles or when decision-making in particular lies beyond their
purview of powers. However, if such dilemmas persist, not only does a lot of time
get wasted but also affect the quality of results (Stringer & Hourani, 2015). Any
role confusion would certainly disrupt the vision for quality education.
Sugrue (2009) surveyed teachers in Ireland, 18 per cent of whom said they
had no idea of leading schools before having undergone the induction training.
In India, states hardly have any orientation programme for school principals on
their new roles and responsibilities and often, in the absence of any guiding docu-
ment or role modelling by senior personnel, principals restrict themselves largely
to administrative and functional roles. The official documents also narrow down
to administrative and financial functions as against the multiplicity of roles and
responsibilities from being an organisational leader to a curriculum and academic
leader, a liaison officer, a team leader, a public relation officer and so on. There
appears a gap between the expectations of the field, the prescriptions in the docu-
ments and the roles actually performed as per the contextual demand.
In order to understand the extent of this gap in terms of roles and responsibili-
ties, the study first tries to understand roles and responsibilities of school prin-
cipals through ‘observations’ and then locate the existing gaps. It also attempts
to study how the principal used his/her faculty to navigate through the roles, so
as to improve learning for children in particular and overall school performance
in general. The study is based on three pertinent questions. First, what are the
prescribed and expected roles and responsibilities of school heads? Second, what
is the understanding and/or perception of principals about their defined roles and
responsibilities. Third, how does a school principal exercise his/her leadership
role to meet the field expectations? Thus, this article explores the leadership in
the frame of prescriptions and challenges through the school based practices and
The study has major implications on policy in school leadership development
in India, especially with regard to inducting new principals into their job roles and
redefining the current roles and responsibilities enabling the future leaders to be
‘leaders of learning’ than ‘leaders of organisational management’ alone.
Given the author’s experience of working with schools and school prin-
cipals across the country as a member of the National Centre for School

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