PART E: The Paradox of Policy and Pay



As we look at some of the more immediate issues for Australia and South Australia it becomes clear that we may expect to see a continuance of the kinds of educational policy currently in place.

This section lists a few key ongoing policy matters that will continue to shape the work of the Principal and argues that there is unlikely to be any significant policy shift in the near future. The tensions and difficulties that Principals experience will not dramatically alter. This raises a strategic and ethical question that must be answered before any industrial negotiations occur.

1. Some likely trends.
At home, demographics will continue to place strains on the public school system - less children particularly in some parts of the city and country, a continued drift to private schools as more low cost small schools are funded in working class suburbs and more religious and cultural groups are able to get funding to start their own, a continuation of population shift from country to the city. As long as there is a policy of large schools as the major means of ensuring curriculum variety then there will be problems. Parents' commitment to giving their own children market advantage expressed in subject and school choice will continue to eat away at non instrumental areas of the curriculum and create the rationale for further school specialisations. Professional commitment to individualise learning, to move from whole class to small groups and from pedagogic lecture to teacher -mentor will continue to place pressure on current secondary school structures of time, space, and people. Whether we see more American style reforms, such as small schools and schools within schools, authentic assessment projects, higher order thinking pedagogies and integrated curricula, may well depend on a change in government. The challenge is in finding ways to utilise the major strength of the system - its intellectual capital and huge pool of expertise and resources - and possibly the new technologies, to meet the ongoing demand for choice and individualised and specialist programmes.

South Australia's particular economic base will mean continued exposure to any difficulties experienced by our major export markets - in our case, Asia - ongoing slow decline of manufacturing operating under the threat of the impact of tariff reduction, and the continued severance of wealth creation from employment. What results is an ever widening gap between the rich and poor, a gap that has a strong locational base. As long as parent contribution and external fundraising and sponsorship are necessary for schools to operate a basic programme, and with the ongoing threat of the withdrawal of poverty based equity funding, we face the possibility of a two tier system of public schools. While it is likely that a change in government would see some increased commitment to alleviating family hardship and to supporting the public services that are located in the areas of high urban and rural poverty, there is little reason to suspect that this will be any more than safety net provision as is envisaged in the new Education Action zones policy of New Labor in the United Kingdom, which has maintained a schools funding policy based around private contribution. It has not opted for a more holistic view of social cohesion and a civil society that would make questions of social and educational inequality not just a matter for the minority. In the United States the Clinton administration has supported recent experiments with integrated community services to support children's learning, but the evaluation literature is divided about whether these are thinly disguised policing of the poor or a move to support community development.

The impending retirement of many teachers provides the opportunity for a restructuring of the workforce -options such as a core of permanent staff and periphery of contract staff model, and/or a model of fewer more highly paid teachers and more para-professional staff will undoubtedly be attractive cost saving measures to a resources stretched state. There is also an opportunity for the established profession to become more involved in preservice education and induction of the new generation of teachers as universities begin to expand and renovate teacher education.

The fraught questions surrounding decentralisation are unlikely to go away. Information from international and other Australian experiences is increasingly available to us. Options such as the United States 'charter schools' and the United Kingdom's 'opting out' are extreme policy measures, as is a fully fledged voucher system, although each has their local boosters. The shape of devolution depends strongly on state government preparedness to take drastic action. This is not the history of our state where 'softer' approaches to policy are more usually the case. Whether decentralisation is technical, managerial, highly regulated and adds to inequity or whether it fosters local democratically decided educational reforms is the issue, and it is the issue regardless of whether the shift is dramatic or gradual.

In all OECD countries we see the continuation of the test - data - outcome - report card driven approach to education policy. While it may be extensively criticised, there is little sign of change. Data creates the rationale for government policy intervention and as long as the dominant view of economic recovery is dependent on a "floor" of training for the potential and actual labour force, then governments will want to retain tight policy control of schools and universities. Testing and data collection is in its infancy in Australia and we might reasonably expect to see decisions to intensify the practice. The issue may well be then how much energy we decide to expend on ensuring that the data is a realistic picture of what schools and students can do.

2. The pragmatic approach?
It is clear from the above that the current tensions around increases in managerial work, handling increased pressure from the community, increased public scrutiny, increased accountability, inadequate resources, and increasing contradictions between reform literature and government policy approaches, are unlikely to go away ( these issues are outlined in Section D). They may change shape if there is a change in government at state or federal level. There may be some loosening of regulation - for example or a decrease in petty rules and paperwork as the new technology platforms are integrated and improved. But in general, the Principals' job will continue to require long hours and large amounts of managerial tasks and responsibilities. This raises a major strategic question for Principals.

- If the educational reform efforts of Principals are not explicitly recognised and rewarded
- If the current policy is to reward managerial and technical tasks
- If some of those tasks might be better retained centrally or done by a specialised officer under the supervision of the Principal
- If the job and person description fails to recognise the diversity of demands that are required in different locations
- If current regulatory frameworks increase the work load and make the work of the school itself more difficult, then
Is a demand for remuneration for current unacceptable practices a tacit acceptance of the situation?
Is it possible to have a position of accepting money for things that you then intend to change - would this then mean accepting a pay decrease if they changed?
Is it sensible to refuse remuneration for tasks that must be and are done, even if they are not our preferred way of doing things?

Pragmatics dictate that refusing money for work that is actually done is foolish. However, what tends to be the result is that until there is a major shift in macro government policy, further incremental demands will build on the present agreements and arrangements. Principals therefore need to be clear about their bottom line - things that are absolutely unacceptable - and continue to present critique and alternative options, modifications and adaptations to policy prescriptions.

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 ]