Relatively little is known about how and by whom curriculum leadership and management occur inside secondary schools, especially in Asian contexts. This article aims to analyse curriculum decision-making in two academically effective secondary schools in Hong Kong. It employs qualitative methods to capture the contributions made by various school personnel, and in particular the principals, to curriculum leadership and management. Data for the two schools show that whilst neither of the principals plays a significant role in curriculum monitoring and innovation, the vice-principal (male), the senior teachers and teachers in one school were perceived to place more emphasis on curriculum monitoring and innovation than their counterparts in the other school. Whilst teachers in both schools shared high expectations for students' academic achievement, one subtle difference between them related to the pursuit of academic excellence. In one school, students did not exert much pressure on their teachers whereas in the other school, teachers felt they had to fulfil students' demands for good lesson preparation and take account of students' opinions of their teaching. Copyright © 1999 Taylor & Francis Ltd.