University of Limerick
Hickey_2024_Challenges.pdf (142.49 kB)

Challenges to the sustainability of Irish post-primary school leadership: the role of distributed leadership

Download (142.49 kB)

Purpose – There is currently a shortage of applications for the role of principal. There are a range of factors contributing to this, one of which may be the considerable levels of stress and burnout reported by principals and deputy principals. Distributed leadership may offer some solutions to this challenge. This study aimed to explore the lived experiences of distributed leadership from a role sustainability perspective of school principals and deputy principals. Design/methodology/approach – This paper follows a qualitative interpretivist approach based upon 15 semi-structured interviews with principals and deputy principals working in Irish post-primary schools. Data were analysed via thematic analysis. Findings – Results indicate challenges to the sustainability of the role of senior school leaders comprising administrative overload, policy proliferation and challenges due to the complexity and breadth of the role of these school leaders. It was reported that engagement with distributed leadership could aid the sustainability of participants in their roles and the importance of focusing on well-being practices was also highlighted. Practical implications – Recommendations include the need to reconsider policy proliferation and the need to reconceptualise school leadership. Further consideration regarding how distributed leadership can aid the sustainability of the role of senior school leaders, without adversely contributing to the already busy role of schoolteachers is also recommended. Originality/value – The findings of this study are valuable as they reflect previous findings relating to the current challenges to sustainable school leadership as well as highlight distributed leadership as a potential aid to mitigate against these challenges.



Journal of Educational Administration


Emerald Publishing

Other Funding information

Irish Research Council GOIPG/2021/1071

Sustainable development goals

  • (4) Quality Education
  • (3) Good Health and Well-being
  • (5) Gender Equality
  • (16) Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

Department or School

  • School of Education

Usage metrics

    University of Limerick



    Ref. manager