An Inquiry into the Theory of Action of School Development Planning
constituted within the Professional Culture of the School Development
Planning Initiative 1999-2010.
PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
This study is a qualitative inquiry into the theory of action of school development
planning (SDP) constituted within the professional culture of the School
Development Planning Initiative (SDPI).
SDP is delineated as an historically contingent term of art most influential in scholarly
and policy discourse under the auspices of the Education Reform Act (1988) in the
United Kingdom and the Education Act (1998) in Ireland. SDP in Ireland reflects
national policy aspiration and traditional Irish cultural and educational values. SDPI,
though only established for eleven years, had a crucial role as an agency of the then
Department of Education and Science in promoting and supporting SDP in Irish
secondary schools in fulfilment of statutory obligations and a national agenda of
This study presents a qualitative thematic analysis of documentary material and
interview data. Using qualified grounded theoretical analytic techniques, the analysis
produces findings showing that the primary goal for SDPI was the development of
collaborative, deliberative professional cultures among teachers as self-conscious
learners, facilitated by supportive leadership, focused upon enhanced pupil learning.
The findings also chart an historical pattern of shifting priorities for SDPI in building
capacity for SDP until school self evaluation discursively displaced SDP, culminating
in a more instrumentalist model of planning.
The study also identifies competing loci of control and power between central
instrumentalist and accountability expectations on the one hand, and, on the other,
the promotion of school autonomy and teacher empowerment. These competing loci
of control form the pivotal historical axis of the problematisation of SDP in the study.
The findings give weight to the argument that this antinomy is a core determinant of
SDPI’s theory of action. The relationship of SDPI to the inspectorate reflects this
Conceptualising the inner culture of SDPI the thesis identifies both strong cultural
cohesion and creative licence. Key features of valorised SDP derive from the internal
culture of SDPI experienced as a community of practitioners. However, strategic
naivity and conflicted loyalties to school communities and the Department of
Education and Skills contributed to the decline both of SDP as a leading term of art
in school improvement discourse in Ireland and to SDPI as a pivotal programme of
support for schools. In relation to categories derived from Argyris and Schon, SDPI
displays model 2 behaviours operationally, but model 1 behaviours strategically.
The thesis contributes to an understanding of an important phase of recent school
improvement practice in Ireland, including the relationship of professional culture to
praxis, and the need for alignment of purpose among key agencies in school
improvement policy design and implementation.
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