How do school leaders in Hong Kong shape policy enactment?

Allan David WALKER, Darren Anthony BRYANT, Yue On James KO

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Objectives: Since 2000 the Hong Kong government has mandated policies to restructure secondary through tertiary progression, broaden the curriculum, liberalize student allocation, change instruction and assessment, delineate schools’ instructional language, and implement school based management. By exploring the perceptions of principals, middle leaders and key staff, this study analyzes: 1. How school contexts impact on leaders’ and teachers’ perceptions of mandates; 2. How leaders and teachers contribute to the enactment of mandates; 3. How school policies impact on the enactment of mandates; and, 4. Similarities and differences across four schools. Perspectives: Schools enact policies as a function of the contexts in which they are situated (Spillane et al, 2002) and the meanings that constituents ascribe to policies (Ball et al., 2011). The concepts of contexts and connections inform this analysis of policy enactment. Braun et al., (2011) analyse context as having four domains: 1. Situated: school locales, histories, student intakes and educational values. 2. Professional: staff members’ commitment, experience, vision, and understandings. 3. Material: staffing, finances, physical conditions and technologies. 4. External: pressures from rankings, inspections and managerial bodies. School leaders mediate context and shape enactment by establishing connections that influence (a) values, beliefs, norms and assumptions (cultural connections), (b) structures that shape organisations (structural connections), and (c) professional relationships (relational connections) (Walker 2010). Methods: Four high performing and improving schools were selected by using value added measures. They varied in location, SES, and autonomy in governance. In-depth, semi-structured, retrospective interviews were conducted with principals, middle leaders and senior teachers to identify policies of perceived impact, solicit interpretations of the policies and steps taken for enactment, and probe emerging themes. Drawing on this data, mandates have been mapped against “lines of success” that show stages of enactment and leaders’ actions that shaped improvement over 12 years (Day et al., 2009). Surveys on students’ perceptions will bolster the findings. Results: Leaders determined policy priorities based on factors such as the reputation of the school, its competitiveness within its district, and the legacy of earlier initiatives. Such factors framed their articulated values, policy acceptance, perception of policy “gaps”, and prioritization of school initiatives. The school with the most autonomy, longest history of success, and highest SES drew on rich resources to enact school-based policies that seemingly anticipated mandates. In other schools, external pressures and professional conditions influenced priorities in selecting policies to emphasize. Across schools, leaders used school-based policies to establish connections that shaped enactment. The schools varied in how structural connections mediated policies; at times drawing connections holistically across a school and at other times framing them hierarchically via departments. Significance: This study explores three areas that are under-researched: (1) how leaders shape the connections that support (or inhibit) policy enactment, (2) the interrelationship of mandated and school level policies with leadership actions over an extended time period, and (3) how policies are enacted in cultures conventionally marked by hierarchical structural connections.


Conference2014 Annual Meeting of American Educational Research Association: "The Power of Education Research for Innovation in Practice and Policy"
Abbreviated titleAERA 2014
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityPhiladelphia, PA
Internet address


Walker, A. D., Bryant, D. A., & Ko, J. Y. O. (2014, April). How do school leaders in Hong Kong shape policy enactment? Paper presented at the 2014 AERA Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


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