Understanding the experience of women middle leaders in Australian secondary schools

Year: 2021

Author: Thompson, Pauline, Stokes, Helen

Type of paper: Individual Paper

The focus of this research project is to understand the leadership experience of women middle leaders in secondary schools in Australia and to investigate if middle leadership is a gendered concept. Internationally, the teaching profession tends to be dominated by women, but in most countries, women do not occupy a commensurate proportion of senior leadership roles. In Australia more than 60 % of all teachers in secondary schools are female, yet only 40% of the principals in secondary schools are female. Middle leadership is a steppingstone to senior leadership in schools.  However, there is a paucity of research focussed on the middle leadership experiences of women. Most of the previous research undertaken on women in school leadership has focussed specifically on women in senior leadership.The data in this study is derived from one part of a larger project that we haved undertaken on middle leadership in secondary schools.    We specifically focus on the leadership practices of the middle leaders with oversight of curriculum (often referred to as subject co-ordinators). The study was conducted in two parts. Firstly, an online survey of teachers and leaders in more than 20 secondary schools from across Australia  (over 1000 respondents). The second aspect of the study involved  50-minute interviews  with a principal, a middle leader and assistant principal at up to 10 schools. Following a statistical analysis of the survey data and a thematic analysis of the transcripts from the interviews we are able to present a holistic picture of the experience of women in middle leadership in secondary schools. We report a range of findings which outline the factors which impact on how women can access and enact current and future leadership roles in schools.This research is significant as it results in a new understanding of how gender impacts on middle leadership and pathways to senior leadership in schools. This understanding can then contribute to informed discussion about how to enhance the pathway to and experience of middle leadership in schools for women.