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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Safety in schools : a critical discourse analysis of policy and principal's interpretations of policy Vellos, Renira E.


Responsibility for school safety falls on the shoulders of school principals, yet few studies have undertaken the task of examining policy alongside how principals interpret policy to inform their school safety practices in British Columbia (BC), Canada. Research questions that guided this study include: How is school safety recontextualized in policy texts by the BC Ministry, school boards, and school codes of conduct?; How do principals interpret policy to inform their practices of school safety? This study used critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 2003) to examine policy texts at distinct levels of schooling including: a) BC Ministry of Education policy texts, b) School Board texts, and c) School Codes of Conduct. The analysis of policy texts made visible the narrowing of a discourse of student, as well as an emphasis on suspension as the likely consequence for a variety of misbehaviors any of which might have been deemed an “incident.” In contrast, principals’ interpretations of policy varied and the school safety practices they described as emanating from policy varied as well. Four social practices were identified through which principals’ enacted their approach to school safely. These social practices were categorized into two discretionary styles that were evident in the principals’ descriptions of school safety practices: a proactive discretionary style and a diligent discretionary style. Implications of this research include the following: First, despite a language of safe and caring schools in legislation, implementation tools from the school board and codes of conduct focused on a formulaic application of consequences with minimal consideration of intent or the circumstances surrounding behaviours; Second, policy texts positioned students simultaneously as victims, offenders, and informants, yet principals used their discretion to consider repositioning students in a range of ways including, as youths who need to be punished or as kids who made mistakes. In the disjuncture between policy texts and interviews, principals’ discretion was identified as paramount for defining school safety and the consequences imposed on students’ actions.

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