Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Education

Schools and Centres


First Supervisor

Associate Professor Shane Lavery

Second Supervisor

Associate Professor Dianne Chambers


The purpose of this research was to explore the personal and professional experiences of female principals in Catholic Education Western Australia (CEWA) composite and secondary schools. The study investigates factors that encourage female educational leaders to become principals, the expectations and demands of being a female principal, factors that support and sustain female principals, and the challenges that female principals face in CEWA composite and secondary schools (CCSS).

The review of literature highlighted four areas which formed the conceptual framework in this research. The four areas were relevant to female principalship in CEWA composite and secondary schools. These areas included Educational Leadership, Leadership in Catholic schools, Women in Leadership and Female Principals. The interplay among these four areas of literature directly influences the investigation into the personal and professional experiences of female principals in CCSS.

Constructivism was utilised as the epistemological approach for this research. Interpretivism was the chosen theoretical perspective for the research with a lens of symbolic interactionism. An instrumental case study design with fourteen female principals of CCSS was the methodology underpinning the study. In-depth semi-structured one-to-one interviews, a document search and researcher field notes were methods of data collection. The model used for data display, management, and analysis was the Miles and Huberman’s (1994) interactive model of data management. This instrumental case study is guided by the qualitative research paradigm.

The fourteen participants indicated factors which they believed encouraged female leaders to become principals. These factors were direct encouragement from significant people; opportunities to undertake acting principalship roles; encouragement from family members and family role models; and a passion for education and a commitment to making a difference for students. The participants highlighted five issues associated with the expectations and demands of being a female principal in CCSS. These issues were the expectations and demands of internal stakeholders such as parents and staff members; the expectations and demands of external stakeholders such as state and national bodies; the demands of parish priests which were outside the responsibilities of the principal; balancing career and family; and high self-expectations and self-criticism.

The participants indicated four factors that support and sustain them as principals. These factors included significant people; suitable mentors; CEWA leadership programs; and 5 previous experience as a CEWA consultant. The study identified nine challenges that participants faced as female principals in CCSS. These challenges were insufficient time to deal with the multifaceted nature of the role; challenges around parental issues and staff concerns; challenges of safety, health and wellbeing of the school community; challenges of working in regional schools; lack of financial and property management skills and knowledge; compliance and regulation; principal preparation processes; gender discrimination towards female principals; and appropriate recognition of the value and effectiveness of the leadership characteristics of female principals.

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