Five principles for action - Education Matters Magazine
Australian Primary Principals Association, Beyond the Classroom

Five principles for action

Five principles for action

The Australian Primary Principals Association’s submission to the productivity commissions review of the national school reform agreement (NSRA) was aimed at supporting the NSRA as a tool for reform. This comes at a time when there are pressing teacher shortages and reports of a rapidly diminishing pool of school leadership aspirants. Malcolm Elliott, President of the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA), outlines an approach for action.

At a time that’s being referred to as a crisis point in Australian primary education, APPA (Australian Primary Principals Association) sets out five principles for action which can invigorate and stimulate education and improve outcomes. APPA wants to develop partnerships with governments which will create an environment where children can flourish amidst creativity and the high levels of expertise of their teachers.


  1. The need for policy development input from schools.
  2. Equality.
  3. Interagency and NGO coordination.
  4. Accountability.
    • through establishment of a manageable matrix of measures to assess the health of the whole system and
    • national testing to focus on the system performance, not that of the child.
  5. A new primary curriculum.

1.The annual Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey conducted by the ACU and partners has repeatedly shown work intensification to be the main stressor for school leaders. In our NSRA submission we describe the workload in schools as cruel. It is constant, demanding and forces school leaders away from closer connection with their teachers, the children and the education programme in their schools for which leaders are held so accountable.

Schools need input into decisions that impact upon them. While it is recognised that governments set policy agendas, those agendas should be enriched by school perspectives. Serious school reform needs a school/bureaucracy interface which works – an interface premised on working with schools in developing workable policy positions.

2. APPA calls for genuine needs-based, sector- blind resourcing. This is essential for school leaders to effectively differentiate support to ensure success for all. A focus on equality through equitable distribution of resources leads to excellence and yet, while Australia is recognised as having an excellent education system, it is not excellent for everyone. International organisations including UNICEF and the OECD rate Australian education as unequal and highly segregated, leaving too many children behind (Sahlberg, 2022).

3.To be a true mechanism for reform the NSRA must extend beyond schools to the myriad of agencies and services children and their families have to deal with. Further to this, Australia can set a world standard by systematically engaging all three levels of government, across all portfolios at each of those levels, in education. Performance targets have been shown to be effective at improving performance in a variety of contexts but they are also criticised for promoting siloed working and discouraging cooperation with others. We need working relationships which are the opposite to this. The future simply must be about collaboration between agencies and organisations, a focus on the child and support for their family, and the greater good.

4. a) The development of the child is the core business of schools and is a continuous process of targeted teaching coupled with appropriate continuous monitoring and assessment. This, though, should not be confused with the assessment of jurisdiction performance. APPA calls for the development of a manageable set of indicators measuring the welfare of children in their communities – a ‘health of system’ matrix across services and supports.

b) Student performance data is important but this doesn’t need to be harvested through high stakes national testing of all students. Instead, statistically significant data can be productively collected through sample testing. In recent years, NAPLAN has become increasingly high-stakes in response to accountability expectations. However, the gains have been less than encouraging (Queensland Association of State School Principals, 2020).

5. APPA has consistently called for the development of a less crowded, manageable curriculum. A new story of primary curriculum is needed. In the NSRA submission we call for a curriculum which celebrates children and their curiosity and which encourages a diverse conception of skills and knowledge – a curriculum which addresses ‘the basics’ while creating space for each learner’s potential to be unleashed. In their 2014 Review of the Australian Curriculum, Donnelly and Wiltshire noted that the development of the curriculum documents “should have begun with school and classroom practice realities, especially in primary school and particularly in the early years”.

In our submission on the National Schools Reform Agreement we call for a re-think of the primary and early childhood curriculum leading to a concise curriculum which recognises and builds on the expertise of teachers.

This article was first published in Education Matters Primary Magazine, September 2022. To read the issue download it here. 

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