The Rhetoric and the Reality: Curriculum Leadership in New Zealand Secondary Schools

Leishman, Christine Lindsay
Deerness, Stuart
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Master of Educational Leadership
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Auckland University of Technology

The past three decades have seen significant changes in the variety and nature of middle-level leadership positions in New Zealand secondary schools. As a result of these changes there are now a range of titles used to describe the roles of those who are directly responsible for departmental administration and management, as well as the instructional leadership of colleagues in subject areas. However, current research suggests there is a lack of consistent understanding as to what curriculum leadership entails and of the capabilities required to enact the leadership role. This research examines different understandings of the curriculum leader role in New Zealand secondary schools. It questions the extent to which the lived experiences and practices of those in departmental and curriculum leadership positions are shaping and being shaped by the perspectives of others, in both their own immediate organisational environment and by professional bodies and associations at a national level. In doing so, it explores a perceived disconnect between “professional literature” (Wellington, 2015, p.55) including material published by the New Zealand Ministry of Education, The Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand, organisational job descriptions and actual leadership practice. Four key new insights emerged from this study. The first of these confirm the proposed disconnect between the theoretical perceptions of curriculum leadership held by policy makers and those who practice curriculum leadership in secondary school organisations. The second key finding is linked to the first and identifies an inconsistent understanding of the leadership capabilities required to effectively lead a curriculum team, as well as of the means for developing those competencies. Due to the complex and ambiguous nature of the curriculum leader role, the third insight identifies significant personal and professional challenges faced by curriculum leaders in reconciling the level of performative expectations with the time and resources available, their pedagogical expertise and their professional ability to enact leadership. The fourth finding reveals that in the absence of a nationally cohesive, professional leadership development pathway, appointment into curriculum leadership is a highly subjective process, based on one’s perceived educational expertise and capacity for leadership.

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