There are fewer people seeking to become school leaders in the South Australian public education system. This is a worrying trend, particularly when many of the current school leaders are nearing the end of their careers. Who will be taking on these important roles in the future?
The work of educational leaders in their schools is strongly acknowledged as a most important factor in the provision of quality learning programs for students. The work of Principals, Deputy-Principals and other leaders is complex and demanding. The Department for Education and Child Development (DECD) is also aware of the leadership hole but it seems that there are few plans to address it.
A leader told me recently, “The job has just got too big. Teachers see the psychological stress placed on their leaders and this has resulted in little interest in some vacant principal positions across the state.”
There is a belief that the system is now so bureaucratic that Principals struggle to deliver quality outcomes for children. Leaders are feeling more isolated, stressed, disillusioned and unsupported in the pursuit of their responsibilities. Principals lack the authority and autonomy from the DECD to select their own staff and even struggle to dismiss underperforming staff. The needs of our children are not put first when placing the best teacher for the job.
There is currently growing discussion across this country about giving more authority and autonomy to school leaders. There are schemes operating in Western Australia that give schools more independence and some states are looking to implement similar ideas.
The concern from our members is that unless the prevailing culture of distrust and disrespect for school principals from the leadership of DECD is addressed, then any changes in the levels of autonomy and authority of principals will only result in more red tape and compliance requirements.
The power and influence exerted by the Australian Education Union (AEU) over decision making within DECD is also a problem. This is evident in policy-making and the implementation of some HR processes that further complicate the work of school leaders. There is an assumption that the majority of staff in schools are members of the AEU but this is not the case. Processes that deny the right of all staff members to be involved in selection panels and decision-making are not equitable or desirable.
As a parent of a child in a state school, what does this mean for you? It means that many of our excellent school leaders are spending more time weighed down by red tape and less time investing quality education initiatives for your school. It means that Principals cannot select the best possible teachers to deliver learning outcomes in their schools. Permanent poor performing teachers are continually moved around in the system and must be placed in a school before their more talented contracted counterparts. Teachers with leadership potential are looking at what their mentors face every day and thinking, “Why would I want to be in your shoes?”