Let the research commence: recruitment challenges encountered in obtaining the voices of Scotland’s school leaders

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    Using the report Teaching Scotland's Future (Donaldson, 2010) as a platform to enhance the outcomes of young people coupled with an education system fit for the global arena, Scotland's school system has undergone and continues to undergo substantial changes.  One of the key reforms was the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) (Education Scotland, 2007). More recently, the Scottish Government commissioned an independent policy review surrounding the curriculum framework and its impact. The publication of OECD’s (2015) report Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective set out further recommendations, one of which states ‘Strengthen evaluation and research, including independent knowledge creation’ (p.12). Following this recommendation, the Scottish Government's recently published Research Strategy (2017) for Scottish Education, which emphasises a need for a work-force that is committed to knowledge creation through research at all levels.  It is hoped that system-wide improvements will take place through ‘a more coherent approach to using data across the school system’ (p.2), those working across the entire system will draw from the development of a knowledge base for ‘what works’ to support the four national priorities. These priorities focus on the improvement in attainment (literacy, numeracy, and between the most and least disadvantaged) coupled with improvements in employability skills, and health and wellbeing. Therefore, a key necessity for meeting the OECD’s (2015) recommendation and the priorities set out in the Research Strategy (2017) is to develop a system that recognises the importance of the inter-relatedness of research, policy, and practice along with engaging with research.

    The purpose of this paper is to explore the difficulties faced in recruiting head teachers from Scotland’s primary sector as research participants. The author outlines some of the findings and discussion points which have emerged from a wider PhD study investigating head teacher’s perspectives of local authority support for creativity in school improvement. Various modes of recruitment strategies were necessary to obtain participants for the study due to the challenges faced for each approach. The recruitment methods included recruitment through social media, local authority, and opportunistic recruitment through colleagues which, in its entirety, resulted in only a small sample size (n = 23) despite the larger scale potential each method afforded. Drawing from 11 semi-structured interview responses from Scotland’s primary head teachers from four different authorities, insights are offered for the challenges experienced by the researcher. It has been concluded that engaging school leaders in Scotland’s primary sector will continue to be challenging unless the perceived gate-keeping is reduced in conjunction with an increase in the provision of space and support to the school leadership team. If policy-makers are acknowledging the role of research in education to warrant a national research strategy, in order to encourage practitioners to become actively involved in research the system needs to go beyond simply recognising the importance placed on research. The conclusion of this study raises serious questions for the sector if Scotland’s education system is to successfully make the transition into a research committed discipline.

    Underpinning this discussion is the work of Uhl-Bien et al. (2007) and Uhl-Bien and Arena (2017). Their framework offers the concept of Complexity Leadership Theory which considers leadership within complex adaptive systems. The framework highlights the dynamic relationship between creativity and bureaucracy through the entangled concepts of three leadership roles: adaptive/entrepreneurial, administrative/operational and enabling in knowledge-producing environments.


    Donaldson, G. (2010) ‘Teaching Scotland’s future’. Edinburgh, UK: Scottish Government.

    Education Scotland. (2010) ‘Curriculum for Excellence Building the Curriculum 5: A Framework for Assessment’, The Scottish Government: Edinburgh https://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/CfEReportingdocument_tcm4- 612845.pdf.

    OECD. (2015) ‘Improving schools in Scotland: An OECD perspective’. OECD: Paris.

    Scottish Government. (2017) ‘A Research Strategy for Scottish Education’. Scottish Government: Edinburgh

    Uhl-Bien, M. and Arena, M. (2017) ‘Complexity leadership: Enabling people and organizations for adaptabilitiy’, Organizational Dynamics, 46, pp. 9-20.

    Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R. and McKelvey, B. (2007) ‘Complexity leadership theory: shifting leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era’, The Leadership Quarterly, 18(4), pp. 298-318.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019
    EventSchool of Education and Social Work Research and Scholarship Conference 2018 - University of Dundee
    Duration: 28 Nov 201828 Nov 2018


    ConferenceSchool of Education and Social Work Research and Scholarship Conference 2018
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