The most eye-catching recommendations relating to school leadership are actually buried amongst the Governance section of the taskforce report.
It recommends that Education Hubs would appoint principals to a particular school on a five year contract to allow “opportunities for principals/tumuaki to gain experience in a variety of school settings and to contribute where their expertise is most needed across the community of schools”.
The other is that, while boards of trustees would have the final say on principal appointments, the appointment process would be led by Education Hubs.
Also, principal salary rates are tipped to be based more on school complexity and challenges and not so much on school size.
In the School Leadership section proper, the focus is more on building a national leadership strategy that involves developing leadership capabilities.
The taskforce wants to build on the Leadership Strategy that the Teaching Council is in the process of getting underway. This involves establishing a Leadership Centre at the Council, that champions a coherent approach to leadership at all levels of the school system. Such an approach involves providing criteria for eligibility to become a principal, identifying professional learning needs, and driving the appraisal process.
Meanwhile, Education Hubs are expected to identify leadership potential and provide leadership development opportunities.
Would five-year contracts deter people from becoming principals?
Auckland Grammar School headmaster Tim O’Connor finds the five-year contract idea concerning.
“What gets lost is the stability, the institutional knowledge and the understanding of the culture of the place,” he told Stuff.
Steve Mouldey also has some questions about the five-year contracts.
“It does make me wonder, if you build yourself a reputation for turning around schools that are struggling – so all of a sudden five years later you’ve invested in community, you’ve helped bring that place along, you really want to help see it take that next step and thrive, and then, ooh, no I’m plucked and I’m over here now.”
Claire Amos says she is comfortable with the idea of her position being reviewed every five years as she tends to think of her career in five-year increments anyway. But she can see the possibility of unintended consequences.
“We want the very best people in the job, but would that scare people if they thought there wasn’t the job security.”
She points to good and bad examples of this approach in Canada and Singapore.
“I think it can be used really effectively. It does make us realise we’re serving a system, rather than a certain school and community and that’s a really exciting thing.”
Is distancing the principal appointment process from boards of trustees a good idea?
Opinion is divided on this.
Alwyn Poole is among those opposed.
“Would [boards] also be able to view all CVs or will the shortlist be vetted for those who are ideologically pure and will toe the line?”
However the taskforce found that boards’ ability to make a good appointment varies widely.
“People working with schools told us that, on the one hand, they had seen boards make wise and sometimes courageous appointments. But too often they had seen boards overlook good applicants and instead make a poor choice.
“We also heard many stories of the prevalence of unconscious (or even conscious) bias, including Boards overlooking highly qualified and capable female candidates in favour of less experienced male candidates.
“We also heard sometimes boards have little or no choice because of a shortage of applicants, this is particularly prevalent in rural and isolated areas. When faced with the option of making a less than ideal appointment and no appointment at all, Boards often made the appointment and hoped that they would be able to support the new appointee to develop into the role.”
These findings have underpinned the recommendation for Education Hubs to lead the process.
One of the key hopes from this approach is to build more diversity into principal appointments. There is a push to achieve greater ethnic diversity among principal appointments to match student diversity.
The taskforce also found that the principal appraisal process is variable in quality. Boards may be uncomfortable following up issues with a principal’s performance that have been identified in an appraiser’s report.
Do the proposals address principal stress and workload issues?
The taskforce confirmed what many union surveys have shown – that the role of principals has become too demanding and stressful. The size and complexity of their workload is unmanageable for many. They found that principals are spending too much time and energy on property and finance matters that are not related to the core business of teaching and learning. The taskforce believes its recommendations around governance would reduce the size and complexity of the principal role, so that school leaders can focus more effectively on teaching and learning. By reducing competition between schools principals could focus more on the core business of teaching and learning.