There are increasing calls for the Federal Education Department to be completely overhauled with an independent body similar to that of the Reserve Bank.
The calls have been sparked by the latest report into principal health and wellbeing, which revealed worsening rates of violence and bullying across Australian schools.
The report’s lead author, associate professor Philip Riley, told 7 News that an urgent rethink is needed as to how the nation’s schools are governed and how principals are supported.
“We need something like a Reserve Bank governance structure where we can have an institution that stands parallel to government but fiercely independent from it,” Riley told 7 News.
Meadowglen Primary School principal, Loretta Piazza, agrees, saying the education system has become too politicized and that schools are “at the mercy” of whatever government or politician is in power at the time.
“Politicians should be consulting the educators who are at the coalface doing the job every day,” Piazza told The Educator.
“We have so many fantastic researchers and consultants who work with us in schools, and they can provide the information and best practice, because that’s what they do every day. The politicians don’t have that kind of experience and insight.”
An ongoing grievance shared among many Victorian principals is the lack of support provided by the Department’s community liaison officers when formal complaints are made against principals by parents.
According to Piazza, principals feel like they are having to rely on their own network of colleagues for help.
“Generally, principals hold the view that they are seen as guilty before proven innocent,” Piazza said.
“Many parents complain because they don’t get what they want.”
Piazza said a good community liaison officer will help resolve the issue while completely supporting principals in the decisions they make.
Principal applications ‘next to nil’
Piazza said there are many principal positions being advertised where “not even one person” is applying for the job.
“Other times, you might have one or two applicants, but they’re definitely unsuitable for whatever reason. Ten years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to have ten or fifteen applicants for a job, but these days, if you get more than two or three applications, it’s unusual,” Piazza said.
“Experienced principals are not necessarily able to manage or negotiate with an aggressive parent. They don’t have limited experience and are sometimes afraid to say ‘no’ to parents. This is why principals feel stressed, unprotected and unsupported. It’s just the way things are going and it’s definitely not a good picture.”
Piazza said that despite numerous reports into why fewer principals are taking on the job, and why principals are experiencing higher rates of violence and bullying, very little is being done to reduce the pretenses associated with the job.”
“I received an email at the end of last year from Melbourne University who are researching the same topic, and I told them that is all well and good but that they would find out the same thing,” she said.
Piazza added that it is as if many academics and organisations are trying to “re-invent the wheel” when it comes to sparking a conversation about principal health and wellbeing, because all of the questions have already been answered.
“All of the information is out there, but we continue doing all of these studies and seeing the same thing. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you won’t get any change,” Piazza said.
“If you keep banging your head against a brick wall, you’re going to keep getting a sore head. How many more research papers need to be released before the Department and the Government finally get it?”
Piazza said a good start would be for Department officials to visit schools and see for themselves how tough the job of principal is.
“Some days it gets a bit too much for us as we try to juggle students’ parents and staff as well as meet compliancy deadlines. There’s not a great understanding of how this all plays out in schools.”