The role of middle leaders in New Zealand secondary schools: Expectations and challenges

Martin Bassett


The role of middle leaders in New Zealand secondary schools is a complex one, fraught with many challenges. Educational reforms that began in the 1980s have increased pressure on top-level educational leaders, resulting in the delegation of responsibilities to other levels in the school hierarchy, with a considerable intensification of management work for middle leaders. As a result, the scope and volume of tasks they are now expected to carry out has led to an increasingly challenging role for these practitioners. This study set out to examine middle leadership development practices in New Zealand secondary schools. A qualitative questionnaire was administered to boards of trustees, senior leaders and middle leaders in five large urban secondary schools. Findings reveal strong agreement between Boards of Trustees, senior leaders and middle leaders regarding the expectations of the role of middle leaders and the challenges they face. Middle leaders have responsibility for a variety of leadership functions which significantly impact on student learning outcomes. However, the complexity of middle leaders’ role is overwhelming for many practitioners, they feel unprepared to cope with their increasing workload and associated challenges. It is concluded that middle leaders undertake a pivotal role in the centre of the school hierarchy, mediating between senior leaders and the staff within their departments. However, if middle leaders are to effectively fulfil their role as pedagogical leaders, it is imperative they are provided with the essential training and support to build their leadership capabilities.


Middle leadership; leadership development; challenges; secondary schools; New Zealand

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DOI: 10.15663/wje.v21i1.194


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© Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research, Te Kura Toi Tangata Faculty of Education, 2015