Andrew Pierpoint, President of the Australian Secondary Principals’ Association (ASPA), speaks about the important role leadership plays in the nation’s education and schools future.
Australian public secondary schools serve a pivotal role in diverse communities across our nation. They enrich the lives of children and young people by helping them to reach their potential, play an active role in civic life, act and interact as effective global citizens and contribute to the economy through work. They demonstrate the principles and values of democracy, social justice and equity that we need for our future society to thrive.
Some popular commentators would have us believe that education in Australia is broken. It is not. Far from it.
Can we improve? Yes of course. But to do so principals must be empowered by a vastly improved professional landscape: one that enables school leaders to focus on what we understand to be the local and global challenges ahead and, therefore, to fulfil our moral obligation to prepare graduates with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values they need for the future.
School leadership is vital for this education future. Understanding that we are leading our school communities at a time of rapid change and in a world of increasing complexity is central to this future. Future education success is strengthened with a combination of parent associations, principal associations, subject associations and professional bodies (e.g. AITSL, ACARA and ESA) aligning their work for the many communities in which we work.
Professor Alan Reid AM, from the University of South Australia, states in the ASPA monograph ‘Beyond Certainty: A Process for Thinking About Futures for Australian Education’ that we find ourselves at an educational crossroad, characterised by two competing discourses. We can either support the standardisation agenda (with policy choices such as school choice, competition between schools in an education market, high-stakes standardised testing and narrowing the curriculum) or we can take a futures-focussed approach (where the policy choices value flexibility, adaptability, collaboration, agility and school autonomy). The futures-focussed approach is characterised by student-centred teaching, integrated and project-based learning, inquiry, formative assessment and teacher autonomy.
Importantly, Professor Reid goes beyond identifying what is wrong to show what could be. He makes the case for us to adopt a contemporary futures-focussed curriculum: one that balances disciplinary learning and interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary/transdisciplinary learning, with one that actively promotes the development of the general capabilities and of meta-learning.
ASPA believes there are five key characteristics that all effective secondary principals have:
- Purposeful – They make a difference to young people’s futures and demonstrate education gravitas.
- Strategic – They bring together challenge, complexity, problem solving and diversity. They see the big picture.
- Edu-preneurial – They are creative, educative, imaginative, dynamic and have political acumen.
- Collaborative – They work together to create positive futures and strong communities through relational trust.
- Inspirational – They positively influence others, giving joy and fulfilment.
An emerging (initial) finding in joint research between ASPA and Monash University around principal autonomy is that the position description of the principal may need to change to reflect the needs of future education.
Leadership and leader professional learning is of course central to all the above. Of greatest concern is the lack of a high-quality national leadership development program that underpins and sustainably supports the future of secondary education in Australia.
ASPA strongly believes that such a high-quality program would have the following fundamental elements:
- An emerging leaders’ program that identifies potential leaders and hones those skills for future leadership positions. A program such as this may identify future leaders and engage them for several years prior to commencement of their leadership journey.
- A high quality, leadership orientated induction program that sets out the way forward for the newly appointed leader in the respective jurisdiction. This part of the program must address school leader wellbeing (and continued school leader wellbeing) as an enabler of sustained, successful leadership.
- A mid leadership career check that promotes successful leaders to mentor emerging leaders and refines leadership skills after a period of school leadership (say 10 to 15 years). It is acknowledged that successful leadership is context based (compare a rural/remote school to a large metro school), therefore enhancing the leadership ‘toolkit’ of a principal needs to be context orientated.
- A high-quality leader retirement program to capture the cultural and systemic leadership knowledge of the leader as he/she prepares to leave the profession. This component of the program may also be gradual with the retiring leader mentoring incoming leaders for a period of time.
ASPA is highly committed to working with the Federal Government and jurisdictional authorities in the development and implementation of such a program. We believe that a program such as this is greatly needed.
The role of principal associations such as ASPA has never been more vital and they have a large role to play in all of the above, in collaboration with jurisdictional authorities.
The time for meaningful change for the future of education in our Australian society is now.