Date of Submission



This study provides an investigative and analytical view of the social and political processes occurring within the implementation of a system initiated and resourced, secondary school improvement initiative (SSII) in a Catholic urban school system in a capital city on the East coast of Australia. The SSII follows a tiered model of implementation within a local school system [in this case, the MacKillop Catholic School System, (MCSS)] and its schools through a group of school-based middle-level leaders, the School Improvement Middle Leaders (SIMLs). This thesis is a six-site case study. The lens of symbolic interactionism is adopted as the theoretical perspective and multiple-site case study adopted as the methodology. It explores the experiences of SIMLs working within the SSII reform initiative across the MCSS to investigate influences of the SSII on the interactions occurring within each school and the school system structures. Successful reform is about creating the conditions, which enable teachers to change and improve their practice. Models of school reform can adopt two views. The inside view of school reform focuses on the capacity of a school to transform itself. Teacher learning is crucial, and school conditions need to foster that learning. This type of model can be described as “bottom up”. An outside view of school reform is one involving the implementation of externally-developed initiatives. A model in which innovations and practices developed by policy-makers and then transferred to multiple settings (“scaling up”) can be described as “top-down”. The SSII is an example of a blended “top down” and “bottom up” initiative in secondary schools. This multiple site case study uses individual, semi-structured interviews and an online survey instrument, to gather the participants’ perspectives on the numerous, different experiences that occur in six secondary schools as a result of the implementation of this school improvement initiative. The central findings of the study are reflected in a proposed model, which describes the conditions that enable a school improvement middle leader within a school to support teachers and facilitate an improvement in their practice. This study serves to highlight the complexities that occur within the school reform agendas in systems and secondary schools, and the pressures placed on middle leaders charged with the responsibility of leading an initiative within their unique school context. The complex nature of secondary schools and how they operate within a school system means any new initiatives are challenged, situated and adopted within the existing established hierarchies of these organisations. Exploring these complexities assists in understanding the nature of school change, social interactions, and the concept of middle leadership within the unique and common features of urban secondary schools.

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


287 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Faculty of Education and Arts

Included in

Education Commons