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Primary school senior leaders’ experiences of a work discussion group: An interpretative phenomenological analysis

15 October 2019

Author: Eleanor Raman, Tavistock and Portman NHS trust educational psychology training course


Educational psychologists have an integral role to play in the support of emotional wellbeing in schools; at the individual, group and organisational level (Beaver, 2011; Pellegrini, 2010). Whilst there is a growing body of research concerning the emotional experience of school staff in their work with students, families and professionals, there is very little concerning their experiences of support. Less still, the experience of senior leaders.

Work discussion groups (WDGs) have been reported to be an effective resource to senior leaders reporting a virtual absence of prior training and opportunity to reflect on the impact of management (Jackson, 2008). In order to extend the literature available on the use of WDGs and the experience of leadership in education, the aim of this research was to explore the individual experiences of a primary school’s senior leadership team of engaging in a WDG.

Semi-structured interviews and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) were used to shape an exploration of the senior leader’s accounts, resulting in the identification of seven overarching themes:

  • Conceptualisations of leadership: juggling responsibilities and increasing expectations (OT1)
  • Senior Leadership Team: relationships, relating in role and developing the work group (OT2)
  • Emotions, expectations and assumptions: surfacing and working with (OT3)
  • Reflection on the use and function of communication: a revised channel (OT4)
  • Negotiating difference, boundaries and safety: relational concepts (OT5)
  • Through new lenses: revisiting practice, revisiting the self (OT6)
  • Time: restraints, pressures and necessity for growth (OT7)

The overarching themes are discussed through the application of a systems psychodynamic lens, with reference to the developing research base around WDGs in educational organisations. The strengths and limitations of this research are outlined alongside suggestions for future research and the associated implications for educational psychologists.

Link to full paper coming soon.


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