Non-compliance by school principals : the effects of experience, stakeholder characteristics and governance mechanisms on reasoned risk-taking in decision-making
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Reasoned risk-taking has long been associated with governance mechanisms for organisations within business contexts. Research has been conducted in business contexts to develop theories of risk-taking that incorporate governance mechanisms and stakeholder mechanisms, including the experience of management. This study applies these theories in the context of the public sector, in particular the environment of public schools, to explore the problem of risk-taking in decision-making by school principals. Here, risk-taking is defined as when decisions are made that are not compliant with the regulatory framework, the primary governance mechanism for public schools in Western Australia. Such decisions involve risk as principals may be exposed to criticism for non-compliance with established policy when negative outcomes arise from decision-making. This creates a dilemma for principals who need to be able to respond to the locally identified needs within a school, and simultaneously comply with all State and Commonwealth departmental requirements.In exploring this area, this research applies the lens of complexity theory, agency and behavioural perspectives to determine whether reasoned risk-taking by school principals is a consequence of their perceptions of the governance mechanism of the regulatory framework, the experience of individual principals and the characteristics of key stakeholders within the school community. In a familiarisation study, qualitative interview and questionnaire data collected from 71 principals and 18 district directors in Western Australian government schools was used to determine factors impacting on risk-taking in decision-making by principals and to develop a model of reasoned risk-taking in decision-making. Further confirmatory data was collected through the survey of a stratified random sample of principals in 253 Western Australian government schools. The questionnaire included measures of both attitude and behaviour of principals. The survey data was analysed using Rasch modeling and each construct in the model explored with factor analysis. Finally the model was analysed using Partial Least Square (PLS) based structural equation modeling.Results of the analysis show support for the hypothesised model and identify a range of factors impacting on risk-taking in decision-making by school principals. Both the level and type of experience of principals were found to have significant influence on risk- taking in decision-making, with implications for governance structures and the devolution of control for decision-making and accountability for outcomes in schools. Principals’ perceptions of the purpose of the governance mechanism were also significant and were mediated by their levels and type of experience. This finding has implications for the Department’s new initiative of Independent Public Schools which marks a departure from the governance framework based on a compliance approach through a centralised hierarchical structure. The research provides insight into the use of the regulatory framework by principals and its alignment to the strategic direction of devolution of local decision-making to schools. The findings can be utilised to in the development of strategic policy for governance of public schools and to enhance professional development of principals in decision-making.The study provides a theoretical contribution through the use of a methodology that combines sequential use of psychometric and traditional measurement techniques. Such combined techniques have been recently used in educational contexts but such studies are limited at present and the methodology may provide a more rigorous approach. In addition, the research provides a case study of the cause and solution of a reverse coding problem in PLS structural equation modeling that has not been previously considered in the literature.
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