Promotion to leadership, not just merit, but insider knowledge: What do school principals say?

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Whilst extensive research has been undertaken concerning educational leadership and management, there is a paucity of scholarship regarding the merit-selection of school leaders other than principals. This is especially true of principal-led merit selection panels convened to recruit middle-level school leaders, namely deputy principals, assistant principals and head teachers. Meritocratic discourse holds that merit-based selection should, ostensibly be an objective, fair and equitable process enabling applicants to compete on a level playing field via a comparative assessment of their capabilities, talents and attitudes. This paper explores the extent to which government school principals in the state of New South Wales Australia, consider the school-based merit selection process they lead is objective and bias-free. Hence, the findings reported here reveal that despite the New South Wales Department of Education (NSWDE) promulgating the primacy of merit in its school-based selection paradigm, non-merit variables (factors having little to do with merit) exert considerable influence over the appointment decisions made by NSWDE principals when assembling their respective school leadership teams.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Education Policy and Practice
Issue number1
Early online date23 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2021. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • meritocracy
  • merit selection
  • internoselection
  • school leadership


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