Many organisations such as schools are characterized by hierarchical structures. Within these structures are various management positions held by individual post holders with titles such as principal, deputy principal, head of department and even governor. By extension, these individuals have various responsibilities and duties, and play different roles within their respective contexts. This study explores the role of Academic Heads of Departments (AHoDs) in six secondary schools in Kenya; their impact; and, challenges they face within their contexts. The research issues in this study are a result of the realisation that AHoDs are under-utilised and yet they are vital in school improvement (Jones and O'Sullivan, 1997). There is a widely held view that schools rely on the dynamism and leadership qualities of AHoDs for their success (Wise and Bennett, 2003; Busher and Harris, 1999; Sammons et al, 1996; Harris et al, 1996a & b; Harris 1998). These observations show an increasing recognition of the pivotal role AHoDs play in the effective management of the modern school. However, accompanying middle level management and leadership is the view that the concept of leadership is complex, evolving and likely to be viewed differently in different cultures. This study has adopted the western cultural understanding of leadership. This is cautiously done as Dimmock (2002) warns that issues of 'cultural transferability' should be handled with care. It has taken a broad (geographical) and in-depth systematic review and has relied on documented data, questionnaires and interviews to inform its conceptualisation. This study is significant because it shows firstly, that AHoDs provide leadership and are ready to transform departments in their schools. They do this by facilitating the work of teams of teachers. Secondly, it shows that AHoDs are important elements who complement their senior leadership teams as they strive to improve teaching and learning. Finally, recommendations based on this study have been made and areas for further research identified that, if undertaken, will enhance more the understanding of the role of AHoDs in this new context
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