Could this be the solution to cutting red tape?

While additional funding and teaching resources are flowing into schools, there is another type of support waiting in the wings that could make a significant change.

That is, the appointment of a business manager to help principals cope with the enormous administrative burden they face on a daily basis.

Around the country, there has been a backlash from principals about the level of administrative and compliancy work they’re expected to juggle on top of being education leaders.

While the levels of support provided to principals differs from state to state, some associations representing school leaders have described the current situation as “bureaucracy gone mad”.

Stephen Breen, president of the Western Australian Primary Principals Association (WAPPA) said many principals feel the situation is at “crisis point”.

“Across the board, I do not know of any principal who would deny the situation is at crisis point,” Breen told The Educator.

“It’s quite clear that over the last 10 years, the cost-cutting and various reforms have created a situation where there is now no middle-man and all the jobs of staffing, finance and management are all being done by the principal,” Breen said.

“This means that there has been an astronomical increase in bureaucracy.”

On Thursday, NSW Secondary Principals Council (NSWSPC) president, Chris Presland, told The Educator that one of the biggest issues he sees is the “increasing and unreasonable expectations by society about the capacity of schools to solve every problem”.

“I believe that society needs to take a close look at what it’s expecting of not only principals, but schools, to do. There is a notion that our community seems to be increasingly expecting schools to do the parenting of students that parents should be doing,” he said.

“The managerial side of school leadership is a two-edged sword. For example, the more we devolve authority to school leaders in terms of the decisions they make, the more processes there needs to be for accountability, compliance and monitoring of those decisions.”

Presland pointed out that this in turn brings increased managerial responsibilities, adding that was “no doubt” the managerial responsibilities have increased and are continuing to increase.

“How that is dealt with in the years ahead will be a real challenge for everybody because at the same time, we are constantly saying we want our principals to be educational leaders – yet we’re lumping more administrative responsibilities on them, he said.

Business managers needed

Presland said the NSWSPC has been advocating for business managers to be appointed in all schools so that principals can outsource their administrative duties and return to the job of teaching and learning.

“The NSW Education Department is looking at procedures to streamline the process whereby schools can use their additional Gonski money to employ business managers,” he said.

“In a sense, what that’s doing is vindicating our position that the job of principalship requires a business manager.”

Presland said that in light of reports about rising workloads and burnout in schools, a more proactive approach was being taken by the Department towards providing better support for principals.

“The Department is working with industrial relations, the unions and so on, to work out how to make it easier for schools to employ business managers, because there is an acknowledgement that you can’t do the whole job without one,” he said.

“I’ve been a principal for 15 years and heavily involved in the politics of education, but I have never at any time in the past known all of the stakeholder groups to be supportive of the education minister.”

Presland said that historically, unions have been “at war” with education ministers, “regardless of what side of politics they’re on”.

“However, what we have here is a union that works almost alongside the government, and the same goes for the principals and parents associations,” he said.

Principals want a higher profile

In July this year, Principal Australia Institute (PAI) conducted market research which looked at principals’ key focus areas.

High on the list were student outcomes in relation to improving literacy and numeracy, closely followed by developing leadership in staff and ensuring the physical and mental health of students and staff.

PAI CEO, Paul Geyer, told The Educator that school leaders are spending less time in the classroom and more time administering the day to day requirements of running such a myriad of competing pressures. 

“The growing complexity will see schools extend their non-teaching management roles but it will take time for systems and the community to accept funding more non-teaching roles,” he said.

“Schools are turning to external consultants, business managers and professional development to help them navigate the sea of complexity of school management.”  

Geyer added that principals want a higher profile, more recognition and respect for what they do in the broader society.

“They are spending less time in the classroom and more time managing and leading their schools,” he said.