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Putting disability educating funding on Pyne’s agenda

Federal President for the Australian Education Union Correna Haythorpe, together with a delegation of parents and students, is scheduled to meet with Education Minister Christopher Pyne and Labor leader Bill Shorten in Canberra to put disability education funding back at the centre of the conversation. Read more

Australian principals at risk of burnout, abuse and bullying

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Australian principals and assistant principals severely lack the support to face the growing pressure of increased workloads, public accountability, aggressive parents and violent students, according to The 2014 Teachers Health Fund Principal Health & Wellbeing Survey Report.

Conducted by the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at Australian Catholic University (ACU), the survey included 2,621 principals and 1,024 assistant principals from primary and secondary schools across urban, suburban, large towns, rural and remote locations from around the country.

Report author ACU Associate Professor Philip Riley said the survey clearly showed that while school leaders were committed to running schools as effectively as possible, the personal cost was increasingly high.

“The high emotional demands these school leaders face, together with a lack of systemic support and training, means we see higher levels of burnout and stress,” he said.

“Worryingly, it is also taking a toll on their greatest support group: their families. Work-family conflict occurs at approximately double the rate of the general population.”

The greatest source of stress for all respondents across every sector in each state and territory is the sheer quantity of work and increasing prevalence of offensive behaviour they have to deal with.

Compared to the general population, principals experience a higher prevalence of violence (seven times higher), threats of violence (five times higher), and adult-adult bullying (four times higher).

Parents are most likely to be perpetrators when it comes to bullying and threats, with these incidences on the rise. The percentage of principals who had experienced parents threatening violence has increased from 19% in 2011 to 25% in 2014, and violent threats made by students have increased from 17% to 24% over the same period.

Students are found to be far more likely to follow through on threats, with one in four principals reporting physical assault from a student.

“Principals regularly face the challenge of communicating the way education policy is both developed and practiced to teachers, parents and students in emotionally charged situations,” Associate Professor Riley said. “Learning solely on the job, rather than through a systematic training process and appropriate support structure leaves them unfairly unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with the emotional toll it can take.”

“What is encouraging however, is that despite the obstacles they face they are generally positive about their job and still report high levels of job satisfaction.”

The report outlines four key recommendations:

  • Introduce professional support: Develop policies to address the growing job complexity and demanding emotional aspects of the role.
  • Increase professional learning: Provision of skill development in the emotional aspects of the leadership role.
  • Review work practices: Develop practices to address the disproportionate level of demand to resources available. This is dangerous to the long-term health and wellbeing of principals.
  • Establish an independent authority to address increasing bullying and violence: Investigate the differences in occupational risk to determine who is at risk, why and what can be done to protect principals and assistant principals.

The full report can be found at principalhealth.org/au/reports.php.

Next steps in school reform

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Dr Robert J. Marzano’s Handbook for High Reliability Schools: The Next Step in School Reform provides a compelling picture of what schools can do to move to the next level of effectiveness in terms of enhancing students’ achievement.

Schools are not typically thought of as high reliability organisations, but nothing prevents a school from becoming an organisation that takes proactive steps to prevent failure and ensure success. Dr Robert J. Marzano defines a high reliability school as one that monitors the effectiveness of critical factors within the system and immediately takes action to contain the negative effects of any errors that occur.

To identify and describe critical factors that affect students’ achievement in school, researcher John Hattie (2009, 2012) synthesised close to 60,000 studies and found that 150 factors correlated significantly with student achievement. In some cases, schools have worked to improve their effectiveness relative to one, two or several factors. While those efforts are laudable, they represent too narrow a focus. All of Hattie’s factors need to be arranged in a hierarchy that will allow schools to focus on sets of related factors, progressively addressing and achieving more sophisticated levels of effectiveness. From a high reliability perspective, the factors identified in the research to date are best organised into the five hierarchical levels described below.

Level 1, a safe and collaborative culture, is considered foundational to all other levels. If students and staff do not have a safe and collaborative culture in which to work, little if any substantial work can be accomplished. In essence, level 1 addresses the day-to-day operation of a school.

Level 2 addresses the most commonly cited characteristic of effective schools: high-quality instruction in every classroom. School leaders must make sure classroom teachers are using instructional strategies in a way that reaches all students and are taking appropriate steps to improve teacher competence when this goal is not being met.

High-quality instruction is a prerequisite for level 3: a guaranteed and viable curriculum. Guaranteed means the same curriculum is taught by all teachers so that all students have an equal opportunity to learn. Viable means that the amount of content in the curriculum is appropriate to the amount of time teachers have available to teach it.

Level 4 moves into a more rarefied level of school reform, because it involves reporting individual students’ progress on specific standards. At any point in time, the leaders of a level 4 school can identify individual students’ strengths and weaknesses relative to specific topics in each subject area.

Level 5 schools exist in the most rarefied group of all – one in which students move to the next level of content as soon as they demonstrate competence at the previous level.

Dr Marzano’s High Reliability Schools’ framework provides a mechanism for school leaders and policy makers to effectively influence the educational landscape in Australia by taking the next steps in school reform.