The Education Review series is five high-quality, separate, subject-specific titles providing a valuable resource for educators, managers and education professionals.
REYNOLD MACPHERSON reveals some inadequacies within educational leadership and presents possible solutions.
The recent decision by primary school principals to campaign against the use of standardised tests and national standards, on the basis of their collective professional judgement, begs uncomfortable questions about the quality of their professionalisation. Their demand for absolute trust is unreasonable on two grounds. Legitimate stakeholders in the educational process of our nation should have access to trustworthy feedback on student learning because such data indicate student progress and the quality of teaching and leadership. Worse, accumulating evidence summarised below suggests that the professionalisation of educational leaders in New Zealand is in need of fundamental reform and substantial investment to safeguard the interests of our children and people. Ministerial intervention appears to be warranted in the public interest.
A crisis in the quality and supply of leaders for middle and senior management and institutional leadership roles in the state education system has long been predicted. A series of ministry, NZCER and university studies have pointed to troubling indicators from about 2005, especially with regard to the period 2010 to 2020 when the baby boomers retire. Pathways to improvement have also been indicated.
A national review was mounted to provide a preliminary and empirical base for a more systematic national policy review and the planned improvement of leadership development. The principals’ recent politicisation of the evaluation of student learning reiterates the urgency of these two tasks.
An initial pilot survey and workshop with 14 serving secondary school principals in early 2008 confirmed common knowledge; that the education system is relying heavily on serendipitous experiential learning at team and executive leadership levels, with a few workshop series being used to encourage aspiring leaders and up-skill first-time principals.
The second pilot surveyed the current attitudes and intentions of 28 neophyte leaders in mid-2008. The findings reiterated what the secondary principals said and raised five additional issues.
Relevant international policy research published in 2007 and 2008 was then considered by systematic review to clarify policy options for New Zealand. Included in this systematic review were research reports about leadership education and development in Australian systems, the OECD’s Improving Schools Leadership project, the International Study of Principal Preparation and the seminal International Handbook on the Preparation and Development of School Leaders.
Five relevant system strategies for New Zealand were derived from these international research findings.
A third pilot surveyed 12 senior educational leaders in 2009. These leaders endorsed the provisional findings of the two earlier pilots and the recommendations derived from the systematic review. They recommended opportunities based on their own experiences.
A modified survey instrument was then offered online to all leaders in schools and preschools as well as to members and potential members of a national professional association. It surveyed preferences regarding preparatory and succession professionalisation strategies.
Most of the 495 respondents reported an intense degree of professional frustration as leaders. The three main sources of frustration to effective educational leadership in schools were given as the quality of system management, inadequacies of funding and support services and uneven teacher productivity. Few could see any end to the frustration.
Curiously, respondents were also found to have limited knowledge, experience or interest in alternatives to learning leadership ‘on the job’ and, understandably, shared a belief in the efficacy of this approach. Respondents’ current career and leadership learning data suggested that accelerating progress through (or increasingly bypassing) ‘stepping stone’ leadership appointments, without role-specific preparation or systematic learning in-role, was more likely to result in serial incompetence than in evidence-based leadership and critical professionalisation.
The 495 lead educator respondents recommended that 16 services be delivered by a new peak body comprising the currently separate professional associations of educational leaders in ECE, primary and secondary schools, in both private and public sectors. While awaiting the formation of a new peak body, current professional associations are advised to review their service priorities.
The final issue examined in the national review was the professionalisation services in educational leadership available from New Zealand’s tertiary institutions. Case studies of current educational leadership programmes identified five acute problems.
Four general recommendations were offered at the end of the national review. The first was that some of the educational leadership programmes and centres in tertiary institutions appear to be of such poor quality that they are probably bringing the discipline of educational leadership and the standing of their host university into disrepute. Each institution should review the rigour of its programme evaluation criteria and processes, and either ensure effective professorial leadership of the research, teaching, and advisory teams in educational leadership, or withdraw from the field.
The second recommendation addressed the deficit of leadership training and education in the ECE sector. Market leaders in ECE might form a consortium with national stakeholders to articulate a research-based and career-related leadership development framework. Funders and providers will need to move quickly to implement the framework.
Third, the latent demand for professionalisation in educational leadership based on turnover already exceeds supply by a factor of three. Participation lags far behind sister professions and systems by a factor of four. Demographics alone suggest that the crisis in quality and quantity will deepen before it improves. The leaders in New Zealand’s schools and education system are poorly educated in educational leadership compared to their international counterparts and need fresh incentives to create an all master’s profession of educational leadership. A ministerial review of policies, reform of incentives and substantial national investment in educational leadership were recommended.
The fourth recommendation was that New Zealand’s professional associations play a much more significant role in the professionalisation of leaders by setting aside past differentiation and competitive strategies, recognise all colleagues in designated leadership roles as educational leaders, combine into one national peak body, and engage positively in the governance of the professionalisation services provided by tertiary education institutions and other providers.
Finally, and returning to the claims made by the primary principals, professionals are given considerable creative freedom to practise and are accorded higher salaries, power, standing and privileges. This is why professionalisation processes need to transform a job into a profession by guaranteeing specialist competence and integrity. Hence they typically involve specialist qualifications that indicate successful training and relevant higher learning. They also involve meeting other rigorous entry and ongoing service conditions that clarify their duty of care to their clients and their accountabilities.
Given the personal and confidential nature and strategic consequences of educational leadership in communities of learning, there is also the inevitable necessity of placing a great deal of trust in such professionals. Hence, in order to sustain that public trust, educational leaders should welcome opportunities to regularly recreate their professional legitimacy. A powerful method is to openly discharge their accountabilities against technical, scientific and ethical standards of practice. This is why a concerted attack on the few remaining empirical standards of practice on the grounds of so-called ‘professional judgement’ is alarming.
Student learning is critical to life chances in a knowledge society. It is a key proxy for teaching and leadership effectiveness. The principals’ judgement that the state school system should dispense with objective and external measures of student learning, and presumably rely on internal and collective peer opinion, both violates the principles of professionalism and points to the inadequacy of professionalisation in educational leadership. It appears that ministerial intervention is warranted in the public interest. n