The work of Deans in secondary schools: Critical pastoral middle leadership for student engagement.
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This research critically examines Deans’ work to improve student engagement and outcomes in secondary schools, by analysing Deans’ perceptions and experiences of their role in this work. It is established that student engagement has a significant impact on academic and social outcomes, and that pastoral care is an essential part of schools. However, while they occupy pastoral middle leadership positions in most New Zealand secondary schools, there is a noticeable lack of literature on the role of Deans. This critical qualitative study comprises of interviews with six Deans, who work at three very different secondary schools. The diverse school contexts offer an understanding of the common attributes of Deans and their work while also providing insight into the contextual nature of both student engagement and educational leadership. Perceptions of barriers to engagement are presented, along with the efforts, challenges and enablers Deans experience in supporting the success of their students. Relationships are found to be paramount to effective pastoral care and leadership. Deans are understood to have special qualities that enable their work in a role interpreted as distinct to that of curriculum middle leaders. The findings further substantiate the complex nature of student engagement and illustrate the multi-faceted and boundary-spanning work of Deans. A socio-ecological model of effective pastoral care leadership for student engagement and success is presented, along with recommendations for improving student care and support of the Deans’ role.