This year promises to be a significant one for Australia’s schools, with many sweeping reforms underway.
Perhaps the most notable of these is the Federal Government’s review of the Australian Curriculum, which promises to shake up the way that teaching and learning happens in schools across the nation.
Other reviews into the status of teaching in Australia and the impact of mobile phones in classrooms will also see big changes for leaders to navigate.
The Educator’s 2020 Education Report recently asked school heads from all states and territories to share the greatest challenges they are facing - and how they intend to tackle them.
The biggest challenges for principals in 2020
While it may be a new school year, the biggest challenges that educators are markedly familiar, with respondents of the Report highlighting a lack of time, large workloads and student mental health and wellbeing as major distractions.
When it came to lack of time, many leaders struggled with “getting basic tasks done”, “facilitating new and expected policies/guidelines” and “working collaboratively with staff to plan and moderate units of work”.
Workloads were another thorn in the side, with many leaders reporting increased demands and training needs for teachers despite relatively low rates of pay for the profession. Others cited the pressure that student and parent behaviour can create for teachers, contributing to more time spent on people management at the expense of teaching and learning.
The complex issue of students’ mental health and wellbeing was also identified as a significant challenge for educators, with one pointing to “ice addicted parents and students living in trauma”. Others pointed to a growth in the number of students presenting to school with mental health issues and the amount of additional responsibilities associated with the mental health of students and staff.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, leaders flagged ‘bureaucracy and administrative red tape’ as a major challenge. Examples included “meeting the expectations of a board with unsupportive staff.”; “unrealistic expectations from line managers”; “red tape, accountability” and “moronic time-wasting documentation that prevents effective teaching together with unmotivated and disengaged students and parents who have little or no value of education”.
When asked how challenging they expect each of the following areas to be for their school/leadership team in 2020, school heads provided the following insights:
Managing staff and student wellbeing: Most (68.29%) participants found this very challenging, while 26.83% found this only somewhat challenging. A small minority (1.22%) didn’t find this challenging at all.
Attracting and retaining high-quality teaching staff: Most (52.44%) participants found this very challenging, while 36.59% found this only somewhat challenging. A significant minority (10.98%) didn’t find this challenging at all.
Introducing or upgrading school facilities: Most (48.78%) participants found this very challenging, while 35.37% found this only somewhat challenging. Only 9.76% didn’t find this challenging at all.
Adapting to changing curriculum requirements: A majority (56.10%) found this only somewhat challenging, while 32.90% found this very challenging. A significant minority (10.98%) didn’t find this challenging at all.
Maintaining and/or increasing student enrolment numbers: Participants were fairly split on this issue, either finding it very challenging (32.93%) or not challenging at all (30.49%). However, a large minority (26.83%) were in the middle, finding the issue somewhat challenging.
Improving communication between teachers, students and parents: Most participants (51.22%) found this somewhat challenging, while 30.49% found this very challenging. Another 17.07% didn’t find this challenging at all.
Introducing new technology to assist with school management and administration: A majority (50%) found this somewhat challenging, while 30.49% found this very challenging and 19.51 didn’t find this challenging at all.
Managing school finances: Most participants (46.34%) found this somewhat challenging, while 29.27% found this very challenging. A significant number (18.29%) didn’t find this challenging at all.
Introducing or improving extra-curricular activities: While most participants (48.78%) found this somewhat challenging, another 28.05% didn’t find this challenging at all. And 20.73% felt this issue was very challenging.
The top skills for education leaders in 2020
With respondents finding less time and more workload as their biggest challenges, the survey found that more leaders believe that interpersonal skills and flexibility are the most crucial skills needed for education management.
According to one educator, “without a doubt, [the most important skills or knowledge] are a high level of emotional intelligence [and a] high level of interpersonal skills. Leading instruction and the ability to do so is crucial.”
While one respondent said educators need to learn the “ability to strategically prioritise, resource and align” their staff and students’ learning needs, another said they also need to have a high level of emotional intelligence “to navigate respectful relationships” among staff, students and parents.
Another respondent noted the need “to be available at all times and hold many roles”.
“It’s not just about education anymore – we’re human resources managers, financial managers, physiologists, counsellors, mental health professionals, replacement parents, police officers and maintenance officers – you name it!”
A teaching principal also went on to list other jobs they had to do: “nurse, counsellor, secretary, accountant, arbitrator, negotiator, mentor, behavioural specialist, speech pathologist, OT, parent, juggler, specialist in a number of fields – and maybe teacher – if we can fit it in.”
The full version of the 2020 Education Report will be published in March.