APPA President Malcolm Elliott bids a fond farewell - Education Matters Magazine
Australian Primary Principals Association, Featured, Policy and Reform

APPA President Malcolm Elliott bids a fond farewell

APPA President Malcolm Elliott

Following his recent retirement, Mr Malcolm Elliott speaks to Education Matters Magazine to reflect on his time as APPA President and looks toward the future of education in Australia.

From humble beginnings, Malcolm Elliott began his career in education in 1978, as a 17-year-old new graduate from teacher’s college, with his first teaching position at Lilydale District School, just outside Launceston, Tasmania. Now, several months into his retirement, Mr Elliott recalls his early teaching days fondly.

“I turned 18 in my first few months of my teacher training. When I started there, our school had one telephone line. Then in 1984, we got a photocopier, which leapfrogged us into the forefront of technology at the time,” he recalls. “For a long time, that first role always felt like just yesterday to me. But now as I approach my mid-60s, it has started to feel like a long time.”

“One of the greatest gifts of working in education for me has been keeping abreast of the latest trends in technology, science, arts, and culture. Education often rests on the forefront of social change,” he says. “And although the pace of that change has always felt relatively consistent, the role and context of education in our society is vastly different now then it was back then.”

Mr Elliott was first elected as President of the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) in January 2019, and was since re- elected twice without any opposition by the national, state and territory sector principals’ associations, that make up the National Advisory Council (NAC) of the APPA.

Over the course of his career, he has been an active voice in education policy and reform at the state and federal level and a steadfast advocate for improved education standards and teacher’s workplace rights; more fine-tuned curriculum and assessment standards; and an all-around, better, fairer education system.

As President, he played an integral role in the collective effort by the APPA and Australian primary schools to continue teaching year-level curriculum to children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic was a very challenging time for the APPA and Australian schools to ply our trade. As a national organisation, we represent primary school leadership and teachers from all around our vast nation, and our experience during the pandemic exemplified the difficulties that we face in this country with equity and diversity in education, as well as the isolation of distance in some areas of the country,” he says.

For nearly two years, the APPA was unable to gather as a group, which meant that a lot of a lot was dependent on the goodwill and sense of connection that people felt in their profession, as well as a joint sense of purpose around the welfare of school.

“One of the things that stood out for me and during this time was the improvement that we saw in the way that our society and communities respond to educational leaders and teachers during lockdown when the pressure was on and it became a somewhat public performance of people’s skills and capabilities,” he says.

APPA President Malcolm Elliott
To restore the balance for the teaching profession, Mr Elliott says Australian policymakers need to restore a focus on the purpose of education and the value that teachers have to offer.


“For a while, it looked like the corner may have been turned in terms of how teachers were seen in our community and there was a real boost in morale, even though people were working harder than ever before. But then there’s the paradox of what we’re seeing now with teacher burnout. There’s so much more pressure that our systems have placed at the feet of our school leaders and our teachers, and expectations from our communities, without the appropriate policies, funding, and workforce in place to support those expectations.”

In the face of these challenges however, Mr Elliott emphasises a continued sense of moral and purpose amongst principals, and teachers about the work that’s being done, despite “the burden of measurement” in the education sector, which he says is becoming “more and more narrowly confined.

“Teachers don’t have to be astronomically well paid, but they must be well paid. They do a very demanding job. In the right conditions, teaching is a wonderful profession to be part of, and richly rewarding. But in the wrong conditions, it can become an undervalued, misunderstood job where teachers are treated as something much less than what they have to offer,” he says.

To restore the balance for the profession, Mr Elliot says Australian policymakers need to restore a focus on the four purposes of education:

1. Maintaining and strengthening our democracy
2. Maintaining and strengthening our economy
3. Maintaining and strengthening our society
4. Caring for individual children and giving everyone the very best opportunity in life

“To reverse the declining numbers of people wanting to lead schools and pursue teaching as a profession, there will need to be a shift away from datasets, numbers, dollars, and cents, and back to an emphasis on the humanity of teaching,” he says.

“There needs to be more of an emphasis on the importance of having a well-trained, valued, professional group of teachers in schools – as well as the recognition of the role that education plays in our homes, our families, and the raising of our children.”

APPA President Malcolm Elliott
Mr Elliot’s 40+ year career in education has included teaching from K-12; serving as Principal of two high schools; and the role of Coordinating Principal in the Glenorchy Cluster of Schools.


During his time as President, Mr Elliott continued to demonstrate the importance of these relationships and building trust between systems and schools, and he applied this approach when working with many key stakeholders across the national education sector, including successive Ministers of Education and the Commonwealth Department of Education.

Speaking on behalf of the APPA, Deputy President, Ms Sally Ruston AM, comments: “We are saddened by the resignation of Mr Elliott after nearly four and half years of distinguished service as President of our association and an entire career dedicated to leading in schools and educating students.”

Whilst thanking Mr Elliott for his dedication to APPA and his contribution to education, Ms Ruston states that the APPA Board and National Advisory Council will remain committed to continuing APPA’s work and partnering with other peak national education bodies and principal associations to continue building on the excellent support, leadership and advocacy and the strong foundation and legacy upheld by Mr Elliott during his presidency.

When asked what the future holds, Mr Elliott says he is still figuring out what the next chapter will look like. “For me right now, it’s time to take a couple of deep breaths. I have been ‘retired’ for about eight weeks now and it’s given me the opportunity to do some things with my friends and family that I’ve put off for years and it’s been a lovely feeling,” he concludes.

Mr. Elliott continues to serve on the board of the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) and the advisory Board of the Gonski Institute.

The Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) represents over 7600 Government, Catholic and Independent primary school principals across Australia. The 2023 APPA National Conference will be held in Hobart, at the Hotel Grand Chancellor, from Sunday, 30 July – Wednesday, 2 August, 2023.

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