Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Schools and Centres


First Supervisor

Shane Lavery

Second Supervisor

Anthony Ryan


The focus of this research was student leadership and student leadership development in a Catholic secondary school. Central to the thesis were the leadership experiences and self-perceptions of elected students aged 15-17 years as they participated in the school’s leadership program. These insights helped the researcher characterise the functioning Program of student leadership at the school, and to discern what kinds of leaders are produced through its efforts.

The review of literature considered five established leadership models: transactional leadership, transformational leadership, charismatic leadership, servant leadership, and distributed leadership. These models were analysed with regards to their strengths, limitations, and potential application to a Catholic, educational setting. Christian leadership and school-based, student leadership initiatives were also examined.

The study focused on a longitudinal case study, the conduct of which was located in the interpretive paradigm of qualitative research. It was situated within the epistemology of interpretivism, and the chosen theoretical perspective was symbolic interactionism. The data were gathered through the exercise of multiple, qualitative methods, namely: one-on-one interviewing, focus group interviewing, document searches, field notes, and researcher reflective journaling.

Findings from the study indicated that the school does not ascribe to any single, established model of leadership; rather, it can be characterised as encompassing an eclectic approach, with an emphasis on elements of transactional, transformative, and servant leadership models. Students asserted that their predominant roles comprised actively participating in leadership-related tasks and acting as role-models for others, particularly younger students. Staff shared that they were chiefly responsible for mentoring students, and for the provision and facilitation of student leadership opportunities.

The student leaders encountered a range of positive and challenging leadership opportunities and activities as they participated in the school’s leadership program. Few, if any, negative leadership experiences were reported. There were a number of perceived benefits and shortcomings students associated with the functioning student leadership program. Benefits included working with other student leaders, and having many leadership opportunities available to the student body. Three shortcomings were associated with the functioning leadership program, namely: some elected students abrogating leadership roles and responsibilities, the apparent non-involvement of younger elected leaders within the program, and the influence of a perceived popularity vote on leadership elections.

Staff outlined various beneficial, personal outcomes for students participating in the school’s leadership program. The chief benefit mentioned was the acquisition and refinement of distinctive leadership skills. Finally, staff unanimously agreed that student participation within the program contributed to the development of leadership potential.


A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. School of Education, The University of Notre Dame Australia.