Big schools, one principal…does it work?

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Since 2010, most Portuguese public schools are organized in what the Portuguese government calls Agrupamentos de Escolas (schools’ groups or clusters). A school cluster is an organisational unit with its own administrative and management bodies, made up of different public educational establishments from pre-school establishments to schools with one or more educational levels. There is one school principal for each school cluster. It is important to mention that the organisation of schools into clusters, just like it is in Portugal, is very little mimicked in other educational systems worldwide. To better understand the process of creating a school cluster and its’ perceived positive/negative outcomes, nineteen individual interviews were conducted with Portuguese principals from different types of public schools: non-clustered schools, school clusters with a maximum of five educational establishments within the cluster, and school clusters with more than five educational establishments within the cluster (recognised as the Mega-clusters). Aiming to give voice to these principals’ experience, a qualitative inductive analysis was conducted using the Nvivo11Pro Software. After an analysis from two researchers, other two researchers reviewed the codification, in order to provide more validity to this qualitative process. Also, the results were shared and discussed with the participants and other Portuguese principals. Results revealed a generalised idea of the process of creating the cluster as negative, with participants using words to describe it as ‘horrible’, ‘very difficult’, ‘forced’. Some principals showed to be very strongly against school clusters (‘It is impossible to feel the school’), while others believe that, after a hard ongoing process, some advantages from school clustering exist, for instance, the possibility to create a School Project that monitors students throughout all their educational levels (from 1st grade until secondary school). All principals highlighted the need to enhance some leadership practices during school clustering process, mostly due to the importance of developing a school cluster identity, and not a sum of different school establishments’ identities and cultures. Furthermore, participants revealed that the current Portuguese Educational leadership model, which is a unipersonal management model, doesn’t seem to fit the organisation of schools in clusters. Hence, opinions about the Portuguese school management model and its’ relation with school clusters will also be explored in the present paper. Finally, considerations for educational policies will be suggested, considering these participants opinions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationICERI2019 Proceedings
Subtitle of host publication12th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
EditorsL. Gómez Chova, A. López Martínez, I. Candel Torres
PublisherIATED Academy
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)9788409147557
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019
Event12th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation - Seville, Spain
Duration: 11 Nov 201913 Nov 2019

Publication series

NameICERI Proceedings
ISSN (Electronic)2340-1095


Conference12th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Abbreviated titleICERI 2019


  • School leadership
  • Portuguese principals
  • School clusters


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