Pace of school reform leaving principals in the lurch

The NSW Secondary Principals Association (NSWSPC) is warning that not only are principals doing more, but that “the relentless pace of educational reform rarely allows for any serious consolidation”.

NSWSPC president, Chris Presland, who has been principal of St Clair High School for the past eight years, said that while it was clear workloads have been rising, there was a “more nuanced” factor at play.

“[It is] about the process of change being experienced in schools as a result of broader technological, social and organisational change,” he said in a statement today.

“Our members are indicating that not only are they ‘doing more’ but that the relentless pace of educational reform rarely allows for any serious consolidation.”

Presland said these challenges include the increasing number of work tasks, the ‘parenting’ that increasingly seems to be a part of what schools are expected to do, shortages of specialist expertise and unreasonable timeframes and deadlines.

These concerns have been highlighted by findings from the Australian Principal Health and Well-being Survey, which indicated that Australia’s principals are the victims of stress at a rate 1.7 times higher than the general population.

“We have been surveying our members for a number of years about principal well-being and the increasing workload is consistently identified as one of the most significant issues impacting negatively on principals,” Presland said.

“The fact that we have this longitudinal data sends a strong message to policymakers that this problem isn’t going away.”

The NSWSPC suggests that the issue of workload intensification needs to be addressed not only for current principals but also for aspiring leaders.

“We need to support and build a culture of leadership resilience for principals. Societal expectations and bureaucratic demands are leading to principals experiencing chronic work pressure as they are expected to take on a growing economic and management oriented perspective in running their schools,” he said.

“We need to address workload intensification not only for our current principals but also for our aspiring leaders to ensure they are equipped to take that next step in their principalship journey.”

Biggest challenges for NSW principals in 2017

Presland told The Educator that the biggest challenge he envisions for principals heading into next year was much greater pressure in terms of accountability and the managerial side of leading a school.

“In the era of Local Schools Local Decisions (LSLD) in NSW, there is certainly increased capacity and increased flexibility at the school level, but with that comes additional responsibility,” he cautioned.

He said some principals feel that the managerial responsibilities of the job are pulling them away from pedagogical leadership.

“Personally, I don’t see that in my role, but I know that many principals do. There is certainly no argument that principals are expected to lead and manage a much broader range of responsibility than when I first started as a principal 16 years ago.”

Presland said the title of a 2007 report – ‘The best job in the world, with some of the worst days imaginable’ – “perfectly encapsulated the challenge of principalship”.

“It is an incredibly stressful job and there is no hiding from any number of things that can happen, but it really is a brilliant job. There is no other place where someone can enjoy a greater level of autonomy than as a principal in a NSW school,” he said.