Big opportunities for education change in 2021 – study

Big opportunities for education change in 2021 – study

A new whitepaper has revealed how principals’ learnings from the school shutdowns of 2020 could lead to major changes in schooling post-COVID.

The whitepaper, titled: ‘Principal Perspectives on the Impact of COVID-19: Pathways toward Equity in Australian Schools’ was the result of a national survey of 456 principals and other leaders across all education jurisdictions by Pivot Professional Learning and the Coalition of Australian Principals.

While the survey found that a staggering number of principals (81%) said their teachers were negatively impacted by COVID-19, principals also believe the remote learning experience provided several unexpected benefits that could lead to permanent changes in the way schools run, and educate their students.

Three out of four principals developed stronger relationships with teachers and families during the 2020 school year, with many school heads reporting that parents had expressed deeper appreciation for having the opportunity to better understand their child’s learning during remote learning.

The survey also found that while a staggering 97% of principals experienced an increase in their workload, only 30% reported a decrease in job satisfaction.

When it came to monumental shift from in-person to distance learning, 65% of high-ICSEA school principals reported a successful transition in comparison to only 30% of low-ICSEA school principals

As for the top priorities for investment moving forward, principals say the top three teacher training, social workers and school psychologists.

“Our research shows that school communities in Australia are resilient, that adversity can bring us closer and that some students thrived in the remote and flexible learning environment. On the other hand, it was also clear that there are deep inequities in our system,” Pivot Professional Learning CEO, Amanda Bickerstaff, told The Educator.

“There were many students that had no access to internet or technology, schools that had limited resources or training for online learning and a lack of fit-for-purpose tools to replicate the school experience at home”.

Bickerstaff said now is the time for the education system to come together to start future-proofing Australia’s schools.

“We believe our policy makers need to make a commitment to ensuring that every student has the same opportunity to learn in our new normal, regardless of where they go to school, their background and income level”.

Andrew Pierpoint, president of the Australian Secondary Principals’ Association (ASPA), said the influence of COVID-19 has caused many principals to pause and reflect on their practice and ways of working.

"In some jurisdictions, these ways of working were seen publicly as school moving to remote learning," Pierpoint told The Educator.

ASPA, in consultation with Dr Amanda Heffernan and Dr Fiona Longmuir from Monash Uni, last year ascertained that principal leaning from COVID-19 fell into three groups: community, communication and connection. 

"During the pandemic, principals were key figures in their community in that parents turned to them to make sense of the many situations that emerged," Pierpoint said.

"We also saw that as the situations changed rapidly, clear and regular communication was required together with a focus on their leadership".

Pierpoint said principals helped their communities stay connected by focusing on the wellbeing of students and staff, and ensuring that they were coping during what was the most challenging experience the education system had faced in more than a century.  

"These three factors have promoted increased leadership in all principals, in all settings. It bodes well for the future of Australian secondary education".