An ethnographic case study of the agendas, participation and influence of stakeholders at an urban government primary school in Tigray, Ethiopia

This study provides an account of the agendas, participation and influence of management, teachers, students and parents at a primary school in Tigray, Ethiopia. A literature review revealed gaps in the knowledge of these stakeholders’ involvement in school leadership structures in the current national policy context. A broader review of the major traditions of school research informed the design of this ethnographic case study. Fieldwork at ‘Ketema School’ took place over an eight-month period in 2014, and involved participant observation, informant-led interviews, and the collection of institutional documents. Data collection focused on the meetings of various bodies, and the activities of a single class in Grade 6 and 7. Inductive analysis of the case data was supported by Atlas.ti.

The study reveals a convergence of understandings about the purposes and processes of the school consistent with the state-authorised model of schooling for national development. Structures and processes of surveillance and control incentivise and normalise compliance with government directives. These include positions of distributed leadership and mechanisms of mutual surveillance and internal accountability through which teachers and students share responsibility for supervising peers and colleagues. For example, the student leaders of the ‘one-to-five’ networks perform an academic support and behavioural control function in relation to their peers;and gim gima is a practice of public critique used for exposing misconduct. Meetings and other participative spaces enable members of the school community to share their views on conditions in school according to their interests and priorities;however, these forums are dominated by management agendas, and school-level decisions are restricted by a strong external policy context.

This study extends knowledge of school leadership practices in Ethiopia and informs wider debates around community participation, accountability and school autonomy in developing countries. Recommendations are made for sharing and strengthening democratic practices and for future research.

PhD, University of Leicester, Awarded 23rd March 2017

Rafael Mitchell, Education Researcher and Consultant, Enable-Ed (;