PART B: Changes in Society - Changes impacting on Principals and School Communities.



1. New Times.

Those who study society agree that we are living in a time of great change, but they cannot agree about the nature of those changes. Sociologists have a range of labels (9) to describe the series of social phenomena that affect our everyday lives and the social
world we inhabit. The Age of Uncertainty, New Times, The Age of Anxiety are just three that try to capture how it is that things we have been used to thinking about as natural and true are now less so. This section argues that

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
all appear in the work of schools and Principals, and in the values, cultures and behaviours of the students who walk into 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.

To go to the next section, which looks at changes in education policy and the public sector in Australia, click here.

The decline of tradition and authority.

The way we live is now much more a matter of personal choice than ever before. We no longer make decisions about our families, work, and where and how to live, based only on tradition - we do not do something simply because that is the way it has always been
done - or based only on authority - we do not do something just because it is what our parents, religion or our teachers taught us. This can be seen in the challenges to parent authority by children, who may now demand explanation and reason and/or discomforting degrees of personal autonomy. These changes are not just confined to private life. They affect public and civil life as well.

Groups who used to be considered above challenge because of their professional knowledge now face criticism from individuals, governments and the media. Doctors, whom we now understand to be fallible, are routinely subject to second opinions, legal action and consumer protest. Scientists are queried about the consequences to human health and social peace of their discoveries. Economists' explanations of unemployment and prescriptions for economic recovery are met with scepticism, since no solution they offer seems to work. This increasing distrust of experts and authority is also to be seen in the declining public perception of the profession of teachers: we are no longer seen to be the sole sources of understanding about learning, fair discipline and necessary knowledge. There is now a proliferation of experts all with different opinions on any subject, including education, and ideas about the appropriate course of action, many of which end up on newsagency shelves and midday television. Individuals have to decide for themselves which of these expert opinions they will trust. Like parents, teachers cannot simply turn to tradition or their designated position of authority and responsibility and are required to explain and justify actions to an increasingly better educated and informed public.

The government is no longer seen as the only source of authority in civil life. Many no longer assume that the government acts benevolently, with their best interests at heart. This diminution of public trust in the state and its institutions does have some basis, as we can see in Australia - the Stolen Children Report(10), the well publicised paedophilia cases and the inquiries into corruption and rorting being current examples.

When people are not happy with the decisions made by government bureaucracies they increasingly seek alternative sources of authority - people appeal to the law and the media rather than seek remediation from a bureaucracy and state. School Principals now know only too well the angry parent syndrome with the occasional threats of litigation, front page headlines and the one sided ten second sound bite on national television. At the same time as teachers and Principals are subject to scepticism, our own trust in the government has also declined; we no longer implicitly believe that it acts with lofty intentions nor even necessarily with the best interests of schools and students at heart.

The decline of public trust reverberates in education in many ways, for schools are also the main public institutions with a responsibility for inculcating social and civic values in the next generation. The work of schools, teachers and Principals is significantly paradoxical - students must learn to be responsible and autonomous in order to live and work in an increasingly de-traditionalised world. At the same time they must learn the traditional social values of trust, interdependency, respect and responsibility - all within an institution that is itself both increasingly distrusted and also growing more distrustful. The failure of public leaders to name adequately, and face this complex paradox leaves the education profession without the collective intellectual and policy tools to deal with it. Managing the paradox is thus hidden in the daily work of teachers, schools and students. It is left up to Principals and leadership teams to move beyond the glib rhetoric of policy documents to design staff development and curriculum programs that address social values and bonds in ways that connect with the lived experiences of students and staff. The potential for the
neighbourhood school to create and sustain social capital and social solidarities at the local level (11) can only be met by taking action outside of the current frame of reference.

The Growth of Global Communications

We now share a universal media space of television, news and entertainment products, telecommunications, and (increasingly) the Internet. Information and images flow from one part of the world to another - although not all of the world or the local community participates equally in their production, distribution and reception. We and our students may be more familiar with events in far away places than with what happens in the next suburb. The media is now a significant source of information, and students' understandings about aspects of the world and society can be very significantly shaped by what they see and hear. This presents a challenge to schooling and to the profession, as we are no longer the only source outside of the family providing information and interpretations about the environment, sexuality, current events, history - to name just a few.

The dominance of the printed word is now rivalled by the importance of image and of style. We can see this everywhere, from the careful management of electronic media propaganda by politicians, to the development of glossy school brochures. Youth cultures are now global, embedded in the new medias and expressed in image and style. It is ironic that the significant socialising role of the new media, the carrier of the flow of images, has increased at the same time as media studies and the visual arts curricula, which provide the critical grammars of visual imagery and design, have declined. The development of hypertext creates new ways of reading, new kinds of literacies (12): critics argue about the effects of this on traditional reading and writing.

Many teachers may still regard television as an evil, and computers as a tool to do unchanged classroom tasks more efficiently. Major government policy resolutely supports a fifties view of basic skills together with an instrumental, cargo cult approach to computers that largely ignores the wider issues raised by the new information and communications technologies. This does not make them go away. The task of trying to make some sense out of the plethora of views about what global digital communications might mean for student learning and the curriculum is left to universities, central office curriculum back-waters and schools. But their significance for, and in, a twenty first century society is evidenced by the effortless media multi-tasking and peripheral/side screen vision of young people as compared to the hesitant progress of many of their teachers and parents.

It is now commonplace to refer to the emerging Information Age, in which new ways of communication and making meaning through the new technologies rely not on information knowing, but information handling, and where enormous data bases provide the resources necessary for all economic, social and political decision making and operations. Popular commentators such as Robert Reich and Jeremy Rifkin (13) have described the future information economy and its highly mobile, global symbolic analysts, who synthesise and categorise, dealing daily in the abstract data sphere. The impact of the new information technologies on schooling is sometimes summed up as a shift for the teacher from the 'sage on the stage to the guide on the side', and a shift for the school from a five day a week presence to a year long, all day/all night, virtual and actual interaction between children, programmes and teachers. Theorists talk about schools becoming community learning centres, operating in an institutionalised network to support a globalised learning society. While these notions may be seductive, the reality for state schools is that there is as yet little public support for de-schooling, insufficient resources to support the individualisation of hardware or constructionist methods, and a significant lack of local employment for symbolic analysts in comparison to the growth in casual services sector jobs. Schools must therefore increasingly work between short term possibilities and long term probabilities, which are in very significant tension.

The further internationalisation of the economy

The recent Asian currency crisis and its consequent impact on Australia supports the theory that we now inhabit an interdependent global economy. The growth of huge transnational companies, some with economies larger than small countries, are supported by instant digital communications and emerging global and regional trading organisations. They present a number of challenges to the nation - state. They are mobile, able to locate where labour, material costs and business conditions are most advantageous and they have a global/regional outlook rather than a domestic focus. Governments act in the interests of mega-corporations in order to keep them on shore, while the businesses themselves act with little allegiance to their host countries. In Australia, Sydney and Melbourne compete to become a 'world city', corporate headquarters for these giants of enterprise, while Adelaide attempts to position itself as a centre for regional infrastructure (transport, telecommunications, training, defence) and Western luxuries (gourmet food and wine). The contribution of manufacturing to national GDP continues to decline as tariffs become the site for decision making about the continuation of the textile, clothing and car industries. Primary industry lives with the protectionist policies of its international competitors, the micro effects of currency changes, increasing environmental degradation and significant public indifference. As the macro economy changes, new technologies further exacerbate the de-coupling of wealth creation from employment and the Australian state, like many other middle size world economies, faces a fiscal and economic challenge. Since the mid eighties, Australian government policy has identified fiscal and economic recovery as being of paramount importance and has adopted the view that public expenditure must be reduced and private industry fostered. This has had major repercussions for the resourcing of public education, for social equity and for the curriculum.

Private contributions to previously public funded services have been made the norm. Recent federal schools policy has moved to change the mix of public and private schooling through the 'switching device' of the New Schools Policy and Enrolment Benchmark Adjustment(14). Because there has been no limit set on the number of non government schools to be established, this has not been a cost cutting strategy but it has resulted in less Commonwealth revenue going to state systems. The rhetoric of parent choice is supported by the production of comparable standardised information about the performance of states and systems of schooling. The decline in adequate government funds for government schools has led to an increased reliance on parent contributions, fundraising and sponsorship and an open approval of the notion that some children can and ought to have a better education if their parents can afford to pay for it. This set of educational policy responses is common to the English speaking developed countries and there are national and international critiques of its inequitable effects (15). However, since both public and private schools receive funds from parents and governments, the difference between the two is blurred, and discussions about public values, inclusive enrolment and universal provision become subsumed by the clamour for a bigger share of government funding.

As businesses move out or fold, some of the communities served by state school systems face massive youth and adult unemployment and declining job opportunities. Economic restructuring produces poverty, as many adults now find they have skills that the economy no longer wishes to buy. There is a ghetto-isation of poverty in particular geographic locations, caused in part by post war urban planning which filled large tracts of available land with public housing and placed low cost, working class suburbs near industrial parks. As poverty increases (16) so do the concomitant pressures on individuals, families and neighbourhoods: some 43% of Australia's children now live in families receiving welfare assistance, half of whom are now the working poor, caught in cycles of wage reductions and the casualisation of employment. More tightly targeted income support schemes (and the exclusion of certain categories of young people altogether) continues the shift, from universal benefits to safety net provisions, that has been in train since the mid 1980s. The political assertion that private and family contributions to individual welfare are the moral responsibility of the citizenry is something not altogether acceptable to the general public, as we have recently seen in the case of nursing home charges. However, old age has been more successful than poverty in altering government strategy. The quantum of people requiring welfare and health support has increased at the same time as the government attempts to reign in spending. Large numbers of poor children and their families now turn to, (or on), their local school which has less support from interagency mechanisms - the non government welfare agencies are also stretched to the limit. At the same time as equity and justice, and supporting funding, have slipped off the agenda, the pressure has increased on state schools to act as welfare agencies and as institutions to remediate alienated youth and keep them off the streets and dole queues. This situation is not just ours alone, it is common in many OECD countries.

Over the last fifteen or so years there has been a significant change in the purposes of education: from a nation building and socialising agency to one responsible for the formation of the human capital necessary for economic recovery. In times of economic uncertainty parents increasingly look to education as the major means of ensuring their child/ren have maximum opportunities for a secure future and, encouraged by the continual political emphasis on choice, shop around for schooling options. One consequence is an enrolment drift from neighbourhood schools to those further up the social scale (many in the non government sector) by those who can afford to do so. Another result is increasing instrumentalism in the curriculum as schools seek to offer what sells in the educational marketplace - the promise of employment and training - resulting in the suturing together of training programs and postcompulsory schooling. This has placed considerable demands on staff and school resources in the struggle to provide options - to educate all students as if they are simultaneously likely to be symbolic analysts, employed and unemployed. Very few politicians and senior public sector leaders are prepared to acknowledge that there is not enough work to go around, that young people are disproportionately bearing the brunt of global economic changes and that residual unemployment, underemployment and increasing disparities between rich and poor may be a permanent feature of Australian society. This creates multiple problems for schools, where staff and communities alike know this to be possible. Cynical reactions greet government initiatives claiming to have the one magic bullet. Schools must respond to the reality facing their students but do so individually and without the support of a robust debate about what kind of curriculum might be the best response. The task of leading more honest and frank discussions falls to community leaders, the media and Principals.

Changes in production processes and organisations.

The glossy volumes of management gurus on global best seller lists signals, not only the changes in the ways that work is organised, but also the popularisation of the theorisations of the change(17). The language of quality, teams, management and leadership has permeated all layers of the working population. What they have in common is a rejection of the industrial mode of production: the assembly line- with its strictly compartmentalised mono-skilled workforce; the pyramid structure - of supervisors, inspectors, planners, designers, and executives; top down micro-management; and variable levels of productivity. The stories of the happy worker of human relations theory and the alienated worker of Karl Marx have been replaced by the virtual reality of the highly productive, share owning and self actualised team which operates within a shared corporate culture in semi autonomy- a product of multi-skills, devolved budgets, specific quality assurance mechanisms and centrally determined targets. Much of the private sector has moved to organisational structures that are flatter and leaner. While less people work in the new organisations, many of them work increasingly long hours, but for less years at peak capacity. In the re-engineered corporation, senior management now earns significantly more and is contracted to perform for this remuneration. At its most sophisticated, the new organisational mode is one of highly technologised learning organisations operating globally, networked to suppliers and the consumers to whom it provides niche market goods. This imaginary is often spelt out to school communities as the rationale for the introduction of information and communication technologies, the introduction of new responsibilities and new student learning requirements, but it is a far cry from the everyday education organisation reality of paper files, hierarchical line management and struggling administrative computing platforms.

The stories of new organisations are, however, not all the same - there are many competing ideas about what constitutes best practice. Selections from the range of new management theories have been variously translated into public sector organisations, many based loosely on the work of Osborne and Gaebler(18). In many OECD countries, the introduction of versions of the new management and work organisation acts as an organisational punctuation mark to accompany the political moves to radical neo- liberal economic policies. This is the case in Australia. Public sector subsidiarity(19) has come to mean restructuring to separate policy and accountability functions from service delivery, flattening organisations to mean significant reductions in middle management, and increasing productivity is now equated with less people whose work is defined and managed through outcome and output driven plans and contracts. In education policy, devolution has replaced more holistic school based staff and community participation to bring schools into line as service providers, governed at a distance. (More details can be found in Section C). The increase in workload (20) that is one of the hallmarks of the new organisation has also been transferred into the public service. Like managers in the private sector, school Principals have experienced an intensification of work and now routinely spend fifty to sixty hours a week on school related tasks.

Other versions of new management theories and the new organisation are reflected in curriculum, in moves to restructure schools and teacher's work, and in professional development. The shift from the old assembly line to the new organisation depends very strongly on teams - and it is the notion of teams that underpinned the development of the Mayer key competencies (21) with their emphases on communication, group decision making and working together. The current interest in multi skilled teacher teams in middle schools (22) works to provide an integrated curriculum and common approach to student learning. Many schools trialling teacher teams move to restructure student groupings and teacher scheduling, building in times for team meetings. Teaching methods such as group work and collaborative learning support students to learn how to work in a team. Educational writers address questions such as collegiate versus collaborative (23) work amongst teachers, and collaborative leadership(24). Many schools now take the notion of a leadership team as a given. Another version of new post industrial theory is the learning organisation (25) that puts ideas of process at the fore, with structures that are fluid and contingent rather than rational and scientific - adhocracy, strategic leadership using mental models and systems thinking (25) being the basis of team learning and shared vision.

The rhetoric of the learning organisation and collaborative work approaches are quite contrary to the top down corporatist model enshrined in the public sector reform literature and in emerging bureaucratic practices. It is perhaps the focus on team work that gives a superficial impression of cohesion between the variations in theory. In a learning organisation, the question of staff development is taken seriously, and appropriate budgets allocated. The reality of current South Australian system practice comes nowhere near what might be imagined in a learning organisation. For example, professional development for school Principals usually consists of a small range of offerings. Some are geared to the immediate introduction of management changes, presented as a blueprint that must be followed, underlying assumptions rarely being made explicit. Others present current ideas, perhaps the application of a particular theory in a school or a research project into effective school administration. Professional associations often also use national and international university based theorists to broaden the menu of theory and practice. It is very rarely the case that Principals collectively or individually have the opportunity or the mandate to review critically organisational and leadership theories and practices and to think through their implications and contrary inclinations. This is not the case in the private sector nor in universities where time to reflect and learn is seen as an essential and is resourced. One, or at best three days, out of the school (but still on call), is hardly congruent with the level of intellectual work required to think through the implications of the kinds of organisational changes now underway.

5. Changes in identity.

Recent times have seen larger numbers of people than at any other time in history forced to flee their home country to find safety and economic security elsewhere. Australia now has a highly racially, ethnically and culturally diverse population, actively connected to all parts of the globe. But census forms and quality assurance documents offer boxes to tick which no longer describe the complexities of children's lives. We routinely use labels such as socioeconomic status, gender, Aboriginality, home language, and cultural background - but these names and the explanatory capacity of the theories that underpin them have been under strain for some time. They are the words that policy uses, although some, such as those relating to social class and status, now operate at the very edges of official discussions. Multicultural policies tend to speak as if all cultural identities are singular and fixed rather than rapidly changing and increasingly hybrid. In a school, such categories often significantly fail to describe the particularities and variation in the ways that social forces interact and intersect both in the lives and decisions of students and in the everyday world of the classroom. Policy use of social categories and prescriptions for action now lags significantly behind ongoing changes in the population.

While cultural diversity is our lived experience, there are also organisations that speak for a return to a mono-culture. The rise of such sentiments can lead to civil war and to significant levels of social instability as is now the case in Europe. In our own case, we hear in the media an increase in public racist conversations and that there is more playground bullying. At the same time, the injustices of colonialism are at the forefront of policy attention, as the Aboriginal sacred meets the economically stressed and obsessed secular state in struggles over land and history. Politicians discuss the possibilities of an election held around native title. The anniversary of Federation brings debate about a potential republic that severs legal ties with England. Political events have brought questions of national and individual identity to the fore. State schools, which serve all of the Australian population regardless of who they are or where they live, are charged with the responsibility of creating the public(s) of Australia, of educating the next generation. This means that teachers must be able to deal with day to day issues ranging from National Action on campus to hurtful name calling, from student questions about the implications of the Wik decision for their backyards to making meaningful school policy that moves beyond simplistic labels, from planning a lesson about the Australian flag to designing a school plan to integrate Aboriginal perspectives across the curriculum. Principals and teachers deal with these questions largely in isolation. Many teachers have experiences gained through travel, education and reflection and personal association with which to understand the increased tensions around culture and identity. However this is not universally true, and even if it were, it is hardly sufficient. A system wide policy framework, built on a post-colonial curriculum that offers more substantive interpretations of the many hybrid identities that make up the Australian population, and that recognises and reconciles with our imperial legacies, while looking to our global future, has yet to emerge.

There are ongoing changes in families, with the nuclear family no longer the overwhelming social pattern. Divorce is increasing, the number of marriages declining, parenting is shared to a greater extent than previously, and blended and extended families are rapidly becoming the norm. The extent of diversity among children and their families is more generally regarded as a problem than a positive development. Diversions from the rhetorical norm are often implicitly denigrated. For example, it is common to hear the term single parent family still used as synonomous with poverty, and the assumption made that the non-custodial parent has no role, function or responsibility. Roles and responsibilities within the family are no longer uniform or standardised but much politically motivated talk simplifies differences into human interest stories about sensitive stay at home men and career mothers. As changing families are increasingly described as inadequate, concurrent with 'return to the (old) family' sentiments, the school is increasingly expected to take on more and more of the functions previously associated with the family and is often castigated for failing to teach young people about sex, drugs, road safety, lifestyle, and so on. Schools must act as surveillance agents on parents and parenting while at the same time relying on parents to support the work of the school in a myriad of ways- from supervising homework and disciplinary contracts to donating voluntary labour and money.

Gender relations also are changing and often misrepresented. Journalists blithely speak of the increase in women in the workforce whereas the data (26) indicates that middle class women whose partners are also employed have an increasing share of the labour market, while working class women whose husbands are much more likely to be unemployed have less jobs now than they did some years ago. Print media headlines often trumpet an educational triumph of girls over boys whereas the reality is more complex. Some girls, in smaller numbers than their male counterparts, are now being highly successful in subjects that only a few years earlier were largely uncharted territories - evidence that some school reforms do have a pay off. But many other young women face uncertain futures in the most highly gender segmented job market in the OECD, an enterprise bargaining system that is furthering the gap between male and female wages, and in an economy where 'female' jobs are increasingly casualised. A minority of working class boys no longer able to become adult male workers express their masculinity through excesses of the 'yob' cultures and violence directed against others and themselves. The vast majority of young men are not cluttering up the suicide statistics, the court rooms and goals. Yet political and media conversations about gender have become increasingly simplistic and categorical. This actively hinders public understanding and justifies the neo-liberal moves to marginalise gender policy. Principals and teachers are unsupported both in thinking, and action, not only about the adequacy of current gender based programs and practices, but also directions for further reform that will assist the personal and educational development of young women and men.

Questions of national identity are also fraught. The capacity of the state to determine national directions is challenged by a combination of factors - transnational companies and regional and international agreements, the global media space which transforms traditional notions of time, space and place, the population that is more diverse and assertive about its particular needs, beliefs and opinions (to name just a few). Our current, and to a lesser extent the immediate past, government has moved to a situation where the economic right to choose within the market is privileged above all other forms of rights. This is an individualising process - it creates no social bonds. The state has to create some focus for national identity and allegiance. There is an increasing tendency for politicians to use the terms 'Australian' and 'un- Australian' that work to create an illusion of a simple and single national persona. But words must also be backed by policy. As in Britain and the United States, one of the policy approaches to the promotion of national identity and nationalism is to promote citizenship education. In Australia the meaning of the term citizenship education has shifted from a broad conception of active participation to a more narrow content based syllabus. At the same time as churches and judges are castigated for making public and political commentary, children are to be taught in classrooms about the superior values and workings of parliamentary democracy. Broader questions of identity, and the kind of Australia we collectively would like, are sidelined. Media savvy young people are unlikely to want the discussion to stop at narrow issues. Identity questions - what it means to be young, live in Australia, be specifically raced and gendered, are central to the interests of adolescents. Schools ignore them to the detriment of students and at the cost of seeming to be irrelevant, or they proceed in the absence of official mandate and a variety of professionally prepared curriculum materials. School Principals then must choose if and how to address and resource individual and national identity questions, do so with theoretical and policy tools that they have no mandate to adjust and in a corporate culture which allows such curriculum autonomy only if it remains hidden and does not impede more narrow bureaucratic imperatives.

A lack of social cohesion is emerging in the local and wider community. There are indications that global phenomona, such as diminution of participation in communal and civic activity, the growth of spatial ghettoes of security patrolled enclaves for the wealthy and dismal poorly serviced tracts for the poor, and a fracturing of social networks, are beginning to appear in Australia. Policies that promote shopping malls as a major site for recreational activity, and the tiers of government that spend little on local public facilities and services, that fund the formation of small enclave schools and reduce the notion of parent participation in schools to the involvement of an elite minority in governance, contribute to this scenario. At the same time there are also counter tendencies - celebrations of sporting achievements that take over entire city centres, public mourning of symbolic 'good' people, massive voluntary fundraising to alleviate hardship both of individuals and whole towns, and participation in public debates of significance. Questions of regional and community development are re emerging in policy debates and ideas such as social capital have considerable airplay (11). Most people routinely belong to many communities that meet particular needs and interests but it is the networking of these that is most vulnerable in the Australian context. The capacity of public schools to support both neighbourhoods and other communities of interest is considerable. The public school system, rather than reverting to the task of nation building could appropriately be seen as significant to the making of the Australian publics, and active in the construction of a social web that values and uses difference. This however is not the stuff of current public policy which acts to support fragmentation rather than supporting a rich network of communities. Many school staffs take on tasks associated with supporting and strengthening communities and the social fabric, tasks which are beneficial not only to the school and its students and families but also in the longer term work to avoid a deeply divided nation state. They do this against the flow, in their own time, unfunded, unvalued and unacknowledged by policy makers.

Risk, uncertainty and anxiety.

Many social commentators now suggest that we live in very uncertain times (9). Unlike the risks and anxieties of former periods, our uncertainty is 'manufactured', a product of our technological prowess, and social organisation. Global environmental changes that threaten human life are becoming evident. Advances in 'wetware' - our capacity to create life, to control reproduction, to engineer genetically, to combine aspects of machines with human bodies - create new ethical issues and bring questions of values to the fore. New technologies provide surveillance capacities that make science fiction look like history, and global media provides the potential for propaganda manipulation beyond the imagination of the totalitarian dictators of recent times. Some discussion about democracy, individual freedoms and the role of government is emerging in response. The growth of social movements around the rights of women, indigenous people, and those concerned with environmental and human rights issues, creates new divisions and new solidarities amongst us. Local communities are changing, some becoming more shut off from the wider world, some increasingly mobile and transient. There are discussions about how to maintain, rescue and produce a civil society and social capital. There are frequent conflicts between competing demands - for example, greenhouse gases or jobs - where any solution seems to create as many problems as are solved.

Uncertainty manifests itself in local communities where questions of safety, public disapproval and fear of mistakes emerge in the minutiae of everyday life. Parents drive the children they want to become independent and responsible to school and forbid them to play in unsupervised places. Local councils close off local creeks for swimming to avoid litigation, understanding that, because they cannot provide alternatives, some young people will choose to continue or to find more antisocial activities with which to occupy themselves. Risk emerges in school policies - for example:
rules for excursions which minimise potential dangers but work as a disincentive, confining young people to classrooms more than is desirable
handling complaints from parents - where maintaining the image of the school might have to take precedence over tackling a difficult problem such as racism
deciding how to manage primary to secondary transition programs - where maintaining one school's numbers might come at the expense of a neighbour's and to engage in competition might undermine cooperative activity that is necessary for viability
The Principal and teachers are faced with weighty curriculum questions - what kinds of knowledge, skills and attitudes do students who live in the age of uncertainty need to know? There are implications for disciplines, such as science which is both part of the problem and the solution to many contemporary risks. There is a need for areas of knowledge such as philosophy, which are largely unrepresented in the secondary curriculum, to help students understand and think through ethical matters.

The media often paints a grim picture of young people: they are portrayed as extremely pessimistic about their individual and collective futures, as hedonist pleasure seekers engaged in anti-social youth cultures, as vulnerable to advertising, fashion and sects, as subject to severe mental illnesses resulting in life threatening behaviours, and as feral and work shy. When three or more young people are gathered together in a public space, many members of the community see a crime scene in the making. These kind of moral panics contrast with the reality that only ten percent of young people (27) are not engaged in work, education or training, and that while they might be concerned about issues such as the environment and prospects of world peace, they also want opportunities to engage in discussion and social action and they feel relatively optimistic about their personal futures. Moral panics not only generate increased surveillance over young people but also spawn projects directed towards ensuring that young people behave themselves. Schools often find themselves caught up in a range of policing, and remediating social educational programmes, since they are a convenient place where numbers of young people can be surveyed and contacted. While schools have always worked with the tensions of purposes arising from the combinations of social control, education and socialisation, pressures from the community and from public policy to 'solve' the perceived and exaggerated 'youth problem' and alleviate social risks arising from the unrestrained behaviour of youth are now significantly increased. They contrast markedly with the educational goals of encouraging young people to become active citizens, makers of their personal and social futures, leaders and innovators, all which work from assumptions about the strengths and capabilities of young people rather than second hand views of their deficiencies and riskiness. Such dilemmas are left to individual schools, teachers and Principals to resolve.

In a climate of uncertainty, government seeks and needs, if it is to remain in power and position, to present the appearance of being in control. It is castigated daily in the media for the personal habits and peccadilloes of its members and tardiness in delivering promises, no matter how idealistic they might have been. Government demands that its instrument of management, the public bureaucracy, produces neat managed plans, sets explicit outcomes and finds magic new solutions to intractable old problems. It requires that there are consequences for those whose actions make it seem out of control. There is a system to punish or fail to reward those devolved managers who are not seen to perform, who are caught out in no - win, no - win situations. In a climate of risk and uncertainty everyone must act as if they are both being watched and they are watching out. The Principal is made responsible for whatever happens in the school and is expected to manage all short and long term demands without undue fuss, not making mistakes, only drawing attention to things that will put the school, system and government in a good light. There is considerable potential for error, accident and conflict in an organisation as large as a school, subject to trends and pressures that are often ignored by policy. It is little wonder that Principals frequently feel themselves to be torn between too many competing demands and agendas, juggling too many issues, any one of which could turn into a major catastrophe or a minor embarrassment. The demands of the Principal-ship are now a tall order and the personal and emotional demands made on individual Principals are largely unrecognised and unrewarded.

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 ]