The Australian Educational Researcher

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 377–391

The Emperor’s perfect map: leadership by numbers


DOI: 10.1007/s13384-016-0206-7

Cite this article as:
Heffernan, A. Aust. Educ. Res. (2016) 43: 377. doi:10.1007/s13384-016-0206-7


This paper establishes that system-generated data profiles are influencing the work of principals in three Queensland state schools. Drawing upon Foucault’s notions of governance, as well as research emphasising performative cultures and the importance placed upon numbers and data in education, this paper uses the tale of the Emperor’s map as a metaphor to explore the way principals’ work is being influenced by specific sets of data compiled by the department. These data profiles are representative of external accountabilities and high stakes testing regimes, as seen in systems that have adopted neoliberal policies which attempt to quantify the work being undertaken in schools. The paper demonstrates that principals are being constructed in part by discourses from a system that emphasises these system-generated performance data as a driver for school improvement.


School principals School improvement Data Performativity 

Copyright information

© The Australian Association for Research in Education, Inc. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.c/- School of Teacher Education and Early ChildhoodUniversity of Southern QueenslandToowoombaAustralia

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