Date of Submission



The purpose of the research was to explore how leaders and teachers of low socio-economic status (SES) Catholic secondary schools engaged with a system led reform to build capacity for leadership to improve learning in their school communities. The research was informed by the school and system improvement literature which noted the limited success of large-scale reforms in secondary schools and identified the need to understand how leaders can better build capacity for improvement.

The case study focussed on the leadership of four low SES Catholic secondary schools from New South Wales (NSW), Australia who were part of the National Partnerships programme under the direction of a Diocesan school system. The research explored the experiences of system leaders, principals, curriculum coordinators, leaders of pedagogy, heads of department and teachers as they engaged with the system driven reform.

The research demonstrated that leadership of learning in secondary schools should be shared with heads of department who are professionally valued, developed and positioned to work closely with classroom teachers. The study confirmed that leaders of learning who share whole school approaches to promote literacy, student centred pedagogy, use of data and the moral purpose of the reform initiative improve student outcomes. In this study a broadly distributed model of leadership characterised by relational trust and teamwork built both a learning culture and the capacity to improve student outcomes. It also found that system reform was more likely to succeed when it was adapted by school leaders to meet their local context.

This research is significant in this field because it provides a practical understanding of how leadership should be distributed to build capacity and improve student outcomes, as well as contributing towards better understanding of the importance of middle leadership of heads of departments and instructional coaches in reforming and improving learning outcomes in secondary schools.


School of Education

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


382 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Faculty of Education and Arts


Research Location