Formal Middle Leadership in NSW Public Schools

Middle leaders - assistant principals and head teachers - are the school leaders with a direct impact on classroom teaching and therefore student achievement, so it is vital their voice is heard.


The School Leadership Institute (SLI) commissioned a research report into the role and professional development needs of assistant principals and head teachers, to help us develop tailored, responsive and evidence-informed professional learning programs and other support.

The research was conducted by researchers from the University of Sydney, the University of Wollongong and Macquarie University. The research term interviewed more than 2600 formal middle leaders from schools from around NSW.

This is the first comprehensive research into the leadership needs and aspirations of formal middle leaders in NSW schools.

The final report makes a number of key findings about middle leaders and provides 10 recommendations to the department.


The aim of the research project was to build an understanding of formal middle leadership and middle leadership professional learning needs across NSW public schools. This will help inform future NSW public school middle leadership initiatives.

There were 6 research questions:

  1. Which teachers are being appointed to formal middle leadership positions?
  2. What are the roles and responsibilities formal middle leaders are enacting?
  3. What perceived impacts are middle leaders having on student learning?
  4. How are middle leaders collaborating with and influencing others?
  5. What are the professional needs and preferences of formal middle leaders?
  6. What are the leadership trajectories and aspirations of formal middle leaders?

The findings provide an understanding of the current responsibilities, practices, professional learning and career trajectories, and aspirations of formal middle leaders in NSW public schools.

Key findings and recommendations

This study has provided the department and the SLI with a deeper understanding of middle leadership in our schools.

The key findings included:

  • The main responsibilities of middle leaders were supervising staff, student-centred roles and curriculum-centred roles
  • 75 per cent of middle leaders believe they have a high to very high impact on student learning through their leadership role
  • Middle leaders are seeking professional learning specific to their leadership roles.

The report authors also made recommendations to the NSW Department of Education and the SLI, including:

  • developing a more formal definition of leadership roles
  • identifying and supporting aspiring middle leaders
  • providing tailored professional development opportunities for current middle leaders.

Our response

We are working to implement the recommendations of the report.

Read the full list of recommendations and the department's response.

Formal Middle Leadership in NSW Public Schools Report

Further reading

Visit the SLI's Leadership Resources pages (available to staff only) to find out more about the leadership development programs we offer for current and aspiring leaders in NSW public schools.

More information

For more information, contact the School Leadership Institute at


  • Teaching and learning


  • Principals and school leaders
  • School Leadership Institute
  • Teaching and learning
  • Web page

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