Open Access

Changing and challenging dimensions of principal autonomy in South Australia: A lived experience phenomenological analysis of the courage to care


This paper employs critical policy historiography of South Australian public education as a contextual backdrop that speaks to a hermeneutic phenomenological study of the lived experiences of two former public-school principals, who describe how their ongoing social justice schooling agendas in public education met with considerable departmental resistance. Both resigned at the peak of their public education careers to pursue their schooling vision in the federally funded independent school system which traditionally catered for the wealthy, elite schools and forms the third tier of the complex funding arrangements of education in Australia that has festered for years under the label “the funding wars” (Ashenden, 2016). Changes to funding arrangements opened up the system and gave the opportunity for our two principals to pursue a public vision in the independent schooling sector, free from what they described as the “shackles” of bureaucratic command and control. The phenomenological essence of their journeyed leadership narratives reveals the courage to care, driving their narrative reflections. They perceived that increasing demands of departmental compliance took them away from being able to pursue a socially just vision with autonomy and freedom. Stepping into the uncertainty of their new independent schooling aspirations, the principals felt professional relief and found real autonomy. We conclude with an exploration of the phenomenological notion of “the courage to care.”

Publication timeframe:
Volume Open
Journal Subjects:
Social Sciences, Education, other