[ About this paper ] [ Executive Summary ] [ The Role of the Principal ]
[ Changes in Society ] [ Changes in Australian Government Policies ]
[Implications for the Work of Principals ] [ The Paradox of Policy and Pay ]
[ Footnotes ]

Executive Summary



The work of Principals is highly complex. At any one time the Principal is undertaking a number of activities, all of which demand specific combinations of professional practices. Further more, these activities are not isolated from one another but are connected in the school ecology. Section A suggests that the sociocultural practices that comprise Principals' work may easily be reduced to generic lists of competencies but the everyday reality and lived experience of Principals is such that this neatness rarely comes anywhere near what actually happens in its complexity, a rich mixture of competing demands and multi-focussed activities.

The Principal's job is primarily educational and professional. Contemporary social and policy trends demand the full range of Principal practices, but emphasise and recognise some more than others. Policy reforms rely on a rich set of Principal knowledge and skills, habits and dispositions while offering an incoherent learning and career pathway and a minimalist approach to classification and remuneration.

Section B argues that the Principal's work does not occur within an impermeable black box called a school. It is influenced and shaped by global trends:

    • the decline of tradition and authority
    • the rise of global communications
    • the further internationalisation of the economy
    • changes in work organisations
    • changes in identity and
    • the emergence of the risk society

These all appear in the work of schools and Principals, and in the values, cultures and behaviours of the students who enter our classrooms. This places new demands on schools and their Principals, who are increasingly left to resolve significant social issues and tensions, by themselves, at the local level, unsupported
by policy.

Principals work is also significantly shaped by the actions of governments and their bureaucracies. Section C details the ways in which federal and state governments have placed economic concerns at the centre of decision making in response to globalisation, and how the recent reform of school education, best understood as a process of institutional re-regulation, has changed the work of teachers, parents and students. In addition, changes in the management of the public sector impact particularly on the work of Principals as they become subject to a common framework of corporate performativity and accounting. In a climate of increased criticism of the public education system, significant expansion of the private school sector and an increasingly market driven approach to enrolment and curriculum, further pressure is placed on Principals to put what time and space they do have available into efforts to keep their school, and the public education system, viable and in good public esteem.

Educational research strongly suggests that reform and innovation require not only resources but some loosening of controls. Successful reform is driven by locally developed and centrally supported educational and curriculum change. The literature suggests that schools and their Principals are not merely implementers of policies and that it is counter productive to see them as such. They cannot accommodate competing policy demands, each of which acts as if no other exists and as if the school is a blank page waiting to be written. The emphasis in the research on student learning and professional involvement in participatory processes speak strongly for a Principal who is focussed on educational issues as the 'prime mover' of her/his practices. At present, the Principal's capacity to move in research supported reform directions is hampered by the top down and bureaucratic approach of current education and public sector policy.

Section D argues that there is considerable evidence to suggest that school administration is getting harder, that Principals work longer hours, in a climate that is more uncertain than ever before. This is entirely congruent with social, organisational and work trends across the world. Principals are currently faced with:

    • Leading and managing a school in a context of paradoxes and tensions
    • A significant increase in managerial work
    • Working in a readjusted hierarchy
    • Working in the context of scarcity
    • A complexity of reform tasks
    • An hierarchical approach to reform
    • A lack of recognition of difference, and
    • Working in a high pressure context.

But public policy rhetoric, rather than reflecting this complexity, tends to simplify, to narrow down the agendas to something that appears to be manageable and is easily saleable to an imaginary public. Unfortunately, society, young people, neighbourhoods and the task of schooling are not amenable to such reductionism. This policy failure leaves school Principals and staffs largely unsupported in their attempts to find more holistic responses. Political and bureaucratic attempts to allocate and specify costs and responsibilities in minute detail, to minimise risks from litigation and poor publicity, and to present an image of rational management create a only superficial neatness. The current lived reality for Principals is one of patchy communication, inefficient delivery of the necessities to deliver policy promises, isolation and a climate of performativity, where coercion, blame and punishment form an organisational dark side that rarely occurs, but is always possible.

Because the current political and organisational approaches lack the ability to 'see' what the Principal's work entails, current industrial arrangements fail to build in and reward all that school leadership and management now demands. There is an inherent paradox in working for policy change and arguing for remuneration of the current work arrangements. Section E suggests that this is a challenge that SASPA must meet both pragmatically and politically.

Commissioned Paper.
South Australian Secondary Principals Association.
March 1998.

[ About this paper ] [ Executive Summary ] [ The Role of the Principal ]
[ Changes in Society ] [ Changes in Australian Government Policies ]
[Implications for the Work of Principals ] [ The Paradox of Policy and Pay ]
[ Footnotes ]