The middle school movement has gained momentum as a reform movement within Australian education over the last twenty years. As systems and schools struggle to implement the reforms, little research has been undertaken as to the role of the head of middle school.
This study investigated how the leaders (heads) of middle schools (in independent schools in Queensland) perceived their role. To examine this issue, a mixed methodology was used, combining both qualitative and quantitative methods. Heads of middle schools of independent schools in one Australian state (7V= 41) were surveyed in the middle of the school year, using the Head of Middle School Survey (Appendix A). Three of the respondents were subsequently interviewed at the end of the school year. The interviews provided both triangulation of the themes and the opportunity to expand upon the data through individual stories.
Once the data had been collected and analysed, by statistics and content analysis it was possible to compare the reality of being a head of middle school from the ideal. Within the thesis it is argued that an understanding of young adolescents psychosocial and academic needs is core to good practice in middle school.
The study identified that middle schools in Australia are complex frameworks and that the role of the head of middle school is grounded in the reality of student welfare, parental concern and the overall governance of the middle school. For some heads of middle school there is confusion of authority, particularly in relation to curriculum authority. Some of the key findings from the study are that older (and more experienced) heads of middle school had higher levels of self-efficacy in terms of the behaviour management of students and that there is a high correlation between the head of middle school’s personal professional development and his/her understanding of contemporary middle school best practices, philosophies and concerns.
A series of recommendations have been developed from the findings of this research. These recommendations include:
• that heads of middle school be given the positional authority of a principal in order to lead their middle school effectively;
• that Preschool to Year 12 [P-12] schools create a clear structure (called middle school) that supports middle schooling; and,
• that training and/or professional development of both current and aspiring heads of middle schools in understanding the social and emotional needs of young adolescents be provided by systems and policy makers.