Students’ perceptions of power dynamics in an international school implementing the International Baccalaureate
: Making meaning of the culture of power

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis addresses how international school students who are preparing an International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme perceive power dynamics across the main sub-systems that constitute their schools (students, staff, and parents), and how they respond to these perceptions. The expression of the students’ perception of power is then used as an indicator of the functioning of the schools’ system: its coherence, its incongruences, its rich points, and its areas for improvement. Eighteen 16 and 17 year old students from two international schools, one each in the USA and in France, were interviewed. Nine members of staff from both schools were also interviewed to provide background and referential information. Students were asked to share their perceptions of power, focusing on power dynamics occurring around concrete situations such as homework processes, communication, and management of time and space. Thematic analysis was used for this study, and several themes emerged from the initial framework. Students expressed: feeling school and parental pressure; a desire for more autonomy of learning; a wish for a bigger voice; and wanting less control by parents and teachers and fewer ‘arbitrary’ exercises of power by staff members. Students were able to identify hierarchical power levels and positions of authority and were accepting of those power differentials. They demonstrated being able to resist and strategize when facing exercises of power and through that process empower themselves. Following a postmodern systemic theoretical framework, and informed by the literature on international schools’ characteristics, student voice, Bourdieu’s notion of capital (1986), Hall & Hall (1987), Hofstede et al’s (2010) cultural dimensions, and by the literature on power, especially Foucault’s notions of power (1980, 1982, 1975/1995), I suggest that the nature and context of international schools ‘collude and collide’ with the IB philosophy to impact the power relations at play in the schools, and generate a culture of power specific to international schools. This thesis concludes with how members of the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) and the ISc communities can make meaning of the ISc/IB culture of power and become agents of change and growth towards more parental and student empowerment. Finally, the ISc sector as a whole might re-evaluate and reform their policies to facilitate a better congruence between their own educational mission and the idiosyncrasies of an international school.
Date of Award1 May 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJenny Driscoll (Supervisor) & Alan Cribb (Supervisor)

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