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Title: Understanding local perceptions of quality education in Kenyan primary schools : 812 journeys of school leadership for school improvement
Author: Cunningham, Andrew
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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In Kenya, as in many parts of the developing world, school leaders face tremendous challenges in ensuring that schools deliver a good quality education for all children, including the most marginalized. This is of concern as the literature in the field of school improvement studies shows consistently that head teachers have a key role to play in enhancing the quality of learning and performance (Bush and Glover, 2014). The weight of these arguments seem to rest largely on the extent to which head teachers can create and sustain conducive physical environments and 'school climates' in which learning and teaching can thrive. Sensitive to these arguments, UNICEF-Kenya and the Kenyan Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MOEST) introduced in 2003, the 'Child Friendly Schools' (CFS) initiative to encourage head teachers to look at ways to describe, measure and improve the quality of primary education, beyond pupils' test scores. To this end, Senior Kenyan education policy makers developed the 'Child-Friendly Schools Monitoring Toolkit' (CMT). The CMT contained 50 indicators for local education stakeholders to use as a school-based monitoring framework for measuring a school's level of child friendliness (i.e. issues related to health, nutrition, safety, protection, equality, equity, family engagement, community participation, effective teaching and quality learning). In 2009, Kenyan government officials distributed the CMT across all 26,000 public primary schools, promoting it as an exercise in school self-evaluation for educational quality. Yet, some eight years after the distribution of the CMT, little is understood about CFS. Kenyan school leaders appear to (i) still lack an understanding of the key factors that do or do not make their schools child-friendly (ii) lack usable diagnostic tools to assess levels of child-friendliness in their schools and (iii) remain ill-prepared to design evidence-based school improvement strategies that address the holistic dimensions of a child-friendly school. In other words, the conceptualization of school leadership for holistic school improvement in Kenya remains unclear and underdeveloped. This study examines why this is so. In simple terms, it investigates why the national efforts to improve the quality of education through the CFS approach appear to have stalled. It uses a three-pronged research design to study what Gray et al. (1999), Jackson (2000), Fullan (2002) and Hallinger and Heck (2011) describe as 'school improvement journeys' of 812 Kenyan head teachers, all of whom were selected from a purposive national sample of rural, low-performing, low-income government-run public primary schools across ten Kenyan counties. The study starts out by comparing and contrasting the local perceptions of Kenyan school leaders of quality education, and their efforts towards school improvement with national CFS policy frameworks and tools to tease out the key differences between policy and practice. Finding that these are significant, the study proceeds in three investigative phases: First, the study collects and codes 8,353 unique responses from 100 focus group discussions with 812 Kenyan school leaders to co-construct a more contextually relevant conceptual model and diagnostic tool for measuring child-friendliness levels in Kenya. This new model and diagnostic tool is called the 'Enhanced Child-Friendly School Monitoring Toolkit' (ECMT). The findings show that 97.0% of Kenyan head teachers' local perceptions of quality education can be captured by the ECMT with just half of the number of indicators originally proposed by UNICEF-Kenya and the Kenyan government in the CMT. Second, the study collects empirical data from 431 Kenyan school leaders, 533 teachers, 467 parents, and 426 pupils through a newly designed mobile phone, SMS-based ECMT diagnostic action research tool. 1,857 diagnostic ECMT surveys were completed on mobile phones, generating 46,425 local rankings of current levels of perceived evidence of factors making their schools child-friendly or not. The study interrogates the dataset to offer new insights into key variables of school improvement that either constrain or enhance quality education in Kenya. Finally, the study collects and codes 1,559 school improvement strategies from 436 head teachers who completed the school-based ECMT diagnostic assessment. The study found that 58% of the school improvement strategies related to the ECMT indicators that received the lowest levels of perceived evidence by school teachers, pupils, and parents. The data suggests promising new evidence about how to promote more data-driven school leadership for school improvement in Kenya. These three findings, together with the study's critical discussion and reflection, offer new scientific understanding for the fields of school improvement and school leadership in Kenya. The study explores how a new school-based monitoring framework (ECMT) can better enable Kenyan school leaders to conceptualize, assess and respond to key factors that either enhance or inhibit quality education in their local contexts. In the end, the study's findings call for a renewed dialogue between top-down and bottom-up perspectives of quality education in determining future criteria and methods for measuring and improving levels of child friendliness in Kenyan public primary schools.
Supervisor: Johnson, David ; Childs, Ann Sponsor: Marshall Scholarship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Education